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Catastrophizing the Trivial

Someone made a wrong announcement, or at least handed a wrong envelope to a man making an announcement. Nobody died, nobody was injured, but cue more drama than the dramas themselves. When Warren Beatty realised there was something wrong with the name on the card for Best Motion Picture at the Oscars, and showed it to Faye Dunaway his co-presenter, he probably didn’t expect her to blurt it out, much less have a whole troop of the wrong people on stage, and the thing rehashed endlessly through the media the next day.

Mistakes happen—but did ever you see such a kerfuffle about such a non-event? Not by the actors/producers etc—they displayed great grace, but every time I turned on the radio on Monday someone was talking about it.

Now I read on the front page of the Irish Times website the headline: “Oscar blunder worse for PwC than any audit scandal.” Accountancy firm PwC (Price Waterhouse Coopers) has been handling the winning Academy Award envelopes for the past 83 years—and this was their first slip up. So what! Apparently it will prompt “high-profile companies and organisations to reconsider longstanding audit mandates” i.e. to move away from PwC. Really?

I couldn’t care one whit […]

The fairness of God?

Two men live radically different lives. One is morally good, reasonably honest, seeks to help those around him—an all-round nice guy. The other is a rogue: utterly depraved, vilely immoral, with a string of convictions, and a litany of broken people and promises trailing behind him.

On his death-bed the second man asks God for forgiveness. The first sees no great need. According to Jesus, one man gets Heaven, the other Hell. The repentant degenerate finds forgiveness; the other man finds judgment.

It doesn’t seem fair. How can God be a God of justice if that’s the case?

How you frame the story defines how right the answer feels. Ask any parent or teacher. How often have you asked a child what happened, and you hear a story that makes you think that they have been unbearably hard done by, yet when you take a step back and see the event without spin, in its wider context, it all makes sense. We are exceedingly skilled at telling a story in a way that highlights our best endeavours—yet is often only half the story.

Let me frame the story of the two men differently. Two men are both given their lives by God. One man […]

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 […]