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Gerascophobia

My wife and I happened to catch programme on TV about facial cosmetic treatments—it was something of an eye-opener (no pun intended).

A beautiful woman in her 30s walks into a room, talks to a middle-aged, slightly overweight man, with a receding hairline. She exits the room, dejected—she has been told her looks are fading, her skin is poor, and her face is in need of filler (whatever that is). She was attractive before she went in, and attractive when she came out, but not according to the money-makers of the world of beauty therapy and cosmetic surgery.

What was eye-opening wasn’t the treatments, although some were weird, but the shameless playing on, and even creating, insecurities in people to promote the treatments.

A 32 year old(!) has Botox to remove a few lines, or rather to paralyse a few facial muscles so they don’t cause lines. She says, “People noticed something was different”. I’d say they did—and it was the fact that part of her face no longer moved and conveyed expression!

A few years ago I read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink. In part of it he tells of Paul Ekman, a pioneer in the study of emotions and their relation to facial […]

New Year Weariness

So the web is filling up with resolutions, lists of what to do, what goals to set for 2017; and doubtless sermons will be preached tomorrow exhorting people with all sorts of challenges for 2017 – maybe I’m just getting old, seen too many resolutions fail, seen people dispirited at the prospect of another year ending with disappointed hopes and unrealised dreams – so I’m not going to go that route!

Life can be wearying. New years with all their talk of fresh starts can be wearying – the same desires for improvement, the same desires to see the church grow, to see lost loved ones come to Christ – and another year comes and goes with no discernable change.

Weariness can set in at individual and congregational level. And we crank back on the enthusiasm level, afraid to keep living with high expectations amidst low outcomes.

So here’s my prescription for the New Year:

“Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:3)

Consider him…

Consider all he has done for you. Consider all he is too you. Take what you already know, turn it over in your mind. Turn it upwards in praise. […]

The Wrong Advent

’Tis the season for baby Jesuses and mangers, wise men and shepherds, as people give a passing acknowledgement to the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Carol services will be had, children perform their parts, and we will all go home will rosy cheeks and glad hearts, to mince pies and mulled wine, feeling suitably imbued with the Christmas spirit.

This is Advent—marking the coming of the Son of God into the world. The problem is that it is the wrong Advent. I don’t mean simply that we have layered extra detail on top of the Bible’s story, or that we have likely picked the wrong time of the year—although all that is true—I mean that we have picked the wrong advent event.

The word advent means ‘coming’. The Jesus whose arrival we ‘remember’ at Christmas is coming back. That’s the one we are told to be looking for, counting down to. It will be entirely unlike his first arrival. If you’ve missed the point of his first arrival, here’s how you will experience his second—as Jesus describes it.

Imagine the following scenario: You are getting on with a perfectly ordinary day, dropping the children to school, calling in at the shops, sitting at […]

He didn’t choose the lamb

There is a wonderful tie-up between Passover and the Lord’s Supper—the whole Exodus is God’s giant illustration, painted in real time and history, of what Jesus’ salvation is like. It’s all there, especially in the Passover—deliverance from slavery, sheltering under the blood of the perfect lamb slain so that judgment would fall on the lamb not on God’s people, the cups of wine symbolising aspects of redemption, etc.. Yet as a preacher, preaching through Exodus and observing the Lord’s Supper when we studied the Passover, I found myself wondering why did the Lamb not choose the lamb to make his point when he instituted the Lord’s Supper at a Passover meal? Why bread?

It seemed as if it would have been so much clearer: “Behold the Lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world”, “Not one of his bones shall be broken”, the parallel of judgment falling on the lamb, during darkness, so that the people’s sins would be atoned for and they could go free. It was all there. The lamb had been on the table for the Passover meal. It wasn’t as if Jesus suddenly thought up the idea of a sacrament to ‘remember his death […]

The lost word of motivation

There’s a phrase I’ve read many times and never seen. It has registered on my retina, but not on consciousness. Yet it is used frequently enough to function as a motivation for all areas of Christian living.

And it is one of the sweetest truths I have thought on for a long time.

See if you can spot it:

Romans 12:1 “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship”

Colossians 1:10 “…so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,”

In case you haven’t got it yet, this one should make it clearer:

1 Timothy 2:3 “This is good, and pleases God our Saviour”

This pleases God. Think about it: something you do pleases God. We are so used to thinking (rightly) of the righteousness of Christ being what pleases God that we can miss, or re-translate, or re-allocate these statements of God’s pleasure in the obedience of his people.

Before we go any further, let me clarify: You can’t please God or come to […]

Baby Loss Week—a tragic disconnect

October 9th-16th was Baby Loss Awareness Week in Ireland, with Saturday 15th being a International Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Day. I had been wondering why the profusion of news items: UK MPs sharing their stories of loss in the House of Commons; an item about a Garden of Stones in County Armagh featured several times on my Facebook feed; and I turned on the radio on Saturday to hear a series of heartfelt stories. Interviewers and newsreaders alike were empathetic and sensitive, gentle and gracious.

And I was confused. Not simply because I didn’t know it was Baby Loss Awareness week. Not because I don’t know something of that intense pain of losing children to miscarriage and watching someone you love deal with a level of sorrow that, as a man, I can’t fully enter into, nor fathom its terrible depths. I know that pain—and it deserves all the tenderness and empathy and sensitivity we can muster.

I was confused, or more accurately, baffled. Baffled by the ability of the media to portray so sensitively, deal so tenderly, and acknowledge one week that what resides in the womb is a baby, while the previous week, and this succeeding week they will argue […]

Of Butterflies and Caterpillars

Our town has a Butterfly Garden. It’s a place where suitable plants are grown to provide a habitat for butterflies to flourish in and around a growing town. I am to blame for it apparently. A local conversation group had an annual church service and asked if we would oblige one year. We invited them to our evening service, and made it an evening of praise and exploration of creation in scripture and in the Psalms we sang. En-route from Genesis to Revelation, from old creation to new creation, I spoke about the butterfly and the wonder of its design and and the lessons we can learn. And suitably inspired they decided to build a butterfly garden…

I’m a designer at heart. I studied architecture at university, and still dabble in various forms of design. One of the things that strikes me as I look at this world is how fantastically designed it is. And butterflies are an incredible example.

When you think ‘butterflies’, don’t just think ‘bright flappy things’—think of the two stages before that: the caterpillar and the pupa. There aren’t many other animals that go through such a complete change during their lifetime. Yet all the information for that transformation […]

No Bucket List Required

“20 Places To See Before You Die: The Ultimate Travel Bucket List”, “The Irish Bucket List: things to do in Ireland before you pass”, “The Foodies Bucket list: 42 dishes to try before you die” and the slightly less doom-laden ““Top 10 places to see in Donegal”—these sorts of lists enliven my Facebook feed with increasing regularity.

The phrase ‘bucket list’, popularized by the 2007 film, is your list of places you want to go and things you want to do before you ‘kick the bucket’. The thinking is that since our days on this planet are short, pick out what you really want to do, and go do it, see it, visit it, eat it.

I have no great interest in a bucket list. Don’t get me wrong—I love this world, find it endlessly fascinating, and would love to go and see many of the far-flung places and sample the culinary delights highlighted in these lists. And I see nothing wrong with doing these things. So why no bucket list?

Bucket-lists make sense—if you believe this world is all there is. Cram it all in before you exit stage left. They also make sense if your view of the afterlife is some […]

Don’t waste your suffering #5

A Promise to Cling to

A series of four articles on suffering is all very well, but when you’re in the thick of it sometimes all you can do is cling to a single verse or a phrase.

This is the story of my verse.

I want to start off with an odd question: What is the least consequential, unnecessary thing, that God has done for you that has brought a smile to your face and a thank-you to your lips?

I think of a long journey home from somewhere and I had a notion for chips (‘fries’ for American readers, expect better 🙂 ). You know how it is when you get a notion, not only do you have to get them, but they need to be good—there are few things as disappointing (at this level) than ropey chips. And so we pulled in at the next chippie. The signs weren’t good—an empty car-park on a Saturday evening, no queue. But we persisted, and a few moments later Judith emerged with the goods. And boy, were they good. On the big scale of life—utterly inconsequential; but on the small scale—”Thank you God for great chips”.

Get your own ‘chip moment’ and hold it in […]

Don’t waste your Suffering #4

So far we have seen two things that will exacerbate our suffering. First of all there is a deficient trust—when we are not looking enough at God. Second is a misplaced trust—when we are looking too much at other things; our plans matter more to us than God.

Third is loss of purpose—when we aren’t looking for anything at all.

Suffering waster #3: Loss of Purpose – Not looking for anything
The two ‘Whys’

When we find ourselves in difficulty it is easy to ask ‘Why’—Why me? Why is this happening to me? What is God doing? What’s the point of this?

Easy to ask, but much harder to answer; even harder when someone else is doing the asking. And from one angle we have to say that we don’t know why.

There are two types of answers to ‘why’ questions. There is the fine tuned answer which God alone knows. Sometimes we see little glimpses of what God is doing, occasionally in the midst, often later, when we see some of the purpose in our suffering. But what if we can’t see anything like that?

There is another set of answers to the ‘why’ questions. They are the broad-brush answers.

These broad-brush answers give us a sense […]