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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 […]

Don’t waste your suffering #3

Picture two avid sportsmen. Both Christians. Both sustain a career threatening injury. One is sorry that his playing days are over, he’ll miss game, it will be some time before he will even watch it on TV. The other is devastated, can’t see how God would allow this, and descends into a deep depression.

What makes the difference? Undoubtedly our psyches are different; some are phlegmatic taking life as it comes, others fiery and passionate. Looking at our previous two articles, the issue could be: Do they trust God enough with their future?

But I believe there is another factor that can make a difference, intensifying the suffering.

Suffering Waster #2: Idolatry – Looking too much at other things

Idolatry—it’s not a pleasant concept. Bold, stark, ugly. And perhaps you think, “Surely not amongst Christians”. If deficient trust is not looking enough at God, then idolatry is the problem of looking too much to other things.

It was the great Old Testament problem for the people of God, rippling through from Eden, to Sinai, to the Promised Land, to the exile, and John is still warning his readers at the end of the New Testament, “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).

It lies […]

Don’t Waste Your Suffering #2

Last time we started looking at the things which waste our suffering. Top of the list is a deficient trust in God. If our faith is weak, misplaced, or unfuelled we will struggle all the more when suffering hits.

So before moving on to the second ‘suffering waster’ let’s look at specific ways to bolster our faith.

Bolstering our Faith

If should be fairly clear what the general principles are that will strengthen our faith, but let me make four specific applications;

a)    Know your God

We exacerbate our suffering when we are too focused on life and not enough on God—therefore we need to redress the balance.

What are you reading in your Bible reading?

If you aren’t suffering make sure you supplement your diet with long gazes at the cross, and at the greatness of God—camp out in the Passion narratives at least once a year, delve into Isaiah 40 & 53, Romans 8, Psalm 103, Ephesians 1 & 2, and many more of those great passages (even work at memorising one of them—far easier done before suffering hits). Another good place to explore is the book of Exodus. Watch God’s suffering people, watch how God deals with them, and above all watch the wisdom and character of God.

If […]

Don’t waste your suffering #1

“If you live long enough you will suffer. The only alternative to not suffering is not living long enough”—with those cheering words Don Carson starts an address on suffering. He’s right; suffering is an inevitable part of life, and yet we can be taken aback when it happens, ambushed and left reeling almost as much by the surprise as by the pain.

As a famous rugby player once said, “Get your retaliation in first”!—I want to take a few articles to equip us for when suffering comes. I don’t intend to deal with the questions of why suffering exists and how could God allow it. Suffering does exist, God does allow it, we have to face it.

The real question is “Will it destroy, damage or deepen our faith?” I want to look at how we can inadvertently exacerbate our suffering, how we can be prepared for it, how we can cope better with it and even grow as God intends in it.

In some ways these articles are addressed to people who aren’t suffering yet in order to prepare you to suffer. You need to lay the foundations now for when suffering arrives. You need to take truths and ingrain them into your personality, […]