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In that cold and draughty stable…?

With all of our four children in school, my wife and I have sat through quite a few school nativity plays over the last couple of weeks and so been reminded of some of the many misconceptions that have grown up around the account of the birth of Jesus. Having recently read Kenneth Bailey’s very insightful and thought-provoking book ‘Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes’, I thought this might be the place and time to pass on a brief digest of his treatment of the Bethlehem stable.

He begins by reminding us that it is very improbable that Joseph could have turned up with a heavily pregnant Mary and found nowhere in Bethlehem to stay. As a ‘royal’ in Bethlehem from the line of David, Joseph would have been welcome in any home. It would have been an unthinkable breach of hospitality to turn him away from the door, never mind a pregnant woman.

To our Western minds, the word manger makes us think of stables or barns, but this was not the case in traditional Middle Eastern villages. Simple village homes often had just two rooms. One was kept for guests, attached to the end of the house or on the roof (1 […]

Lessons from a Humiliating Failure

Have you had this nightmare? Your child is on stage in a school play; she is in the middle of a solo which she has performed flawlessly in every rehearsal and on previous nights, when suddenly her voice wobbles and then chokes. You can’t believe it’s happening, but there she is, humiliated and devastated, her hands covering her face trying to block out the hundreds of eyes watching her while the rest of the cast try to improvise around her failure.

Except that for my wife and me it wasn’t a bad dream. It happened to one of our children (who shall remain nameless, at a time that will remain unspecified!).

After first of all pouring out love, comfort and sympathy, my wife and I then began to talk with our daughter about some of the lessons God might be teaching her even through something as difficult as this.

Our starting point and overarching principle was that Romans 8.28 really means what it says. All things really do work together for the good of those who love God. God is good and wise and in control of everything that happens. He can use even huge catastrophes to bring about good things—if he could […]

Is Christianity Homophobic?

A young man in our congregation runs a chain of bakery stores in Northern Ireland. A few months ago a gay man representing a group called ‘Queerspace’ came into one of his stores and placed an order for a cake with the message ‘Support Gay Marriage’. The order was refused by the management because it went against their strong Christian convictions about the nature of marriage. There would have been no problem selling the customer a cake—he wan’t being denied service because of his sexual orientation. The bakery simply refused to endorse his campaign for gay marriage. The management have also refused to ice cakes with (heterosexual) pornographic pictures or slogans they found offensive. There was no question of this man being treated differently because he is a homosexual.

Nevertheless, a few weeks later, the bakery was threatened with legal action by the Equality Commission, a publicly funded body, claiming they had breached equality laws which outlaw discrimination in the provision of goods and services.

Needless to say, the case prompted a media storm. And it didn’t take long before Christians in general, and the management of this bakery in particular, were being accused of homophobia. It’s such a common slur, isn’t […]

Praying for our Nations

As I write this, the people of Scotland are voting on whether or not they want to remain in the United Kingdom. A remarkable 97% of the people have registered to vote in the referendum, and the turnout at the polls is expected to be the highest in Scottish history – remarkable indeed in a climate of electoral apathy. As I write, the result is impossible to predict – experts reckon it could be decided by a margin as slender as 60,000 votes. The polling organisation Ipsos Mori are saying 51% yes, 49% no.

 

As a Northern Irish citizen of the United Kingdom, I have heard and read plenty of arguments over the last few months as to why Scottish independence would be either the kiss of life or the kiss of death to both Scotland and the rest of the UK. In the ‘yes’ camp and in the ‘no’ camp experts hold forth eloquently, persuasively, passionately, supporting their arguments with telling and pertinent statistics. And then the other side comes back with forceful counter-arguments and equally plausible statistics. It’s all too easy to become like the sheep in Animal Farm who just believed whoever spoke last! How do we pray about […]