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Call the Sabbath a Delight

In Isaiah 58.13 we have laid out for us the chief purpose of the Sabbath day: …turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honourable… honour it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly…

The central thought here is that we are to delight in and honour the Lord’s holy day. The word ‘holy’ means ‘set apart’, and that in two directions: on the one hand the Sabbath is to be set apart from the rest of week—we are not to use it to gratify our own desires and preferences. But at the same time, the Sabbath is set apart for God. In other words, the reason for setting it apart from other six days is so that the Lord will be the focus of the day. We abstain from the work and leisure pursuits of the other six days not so we’ll be bored for a whole day, but so we can concentrate on the Lord without distraction.

Isaiah spells out three things involved in honouring the day:

Not going your own ways. This probably refers […]

Should I start a relationship with a non-Christian?

Last night I was speaking to a Christian Union meeting at our local university about dating and marriage. One of the perennial problems that many young people fall into is getting into relationships with non-Christians. I was exhorting these students to realise that going out with a non-Christian is not an option for the believer. Because dating is a stepping stone to marriage, what the Bible says about whom we may marry applies to whom we may date as well. 1 Corinthians 7.39: A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. But even if someone refuses to accept that this command applies to pre-marriage relationships, at best it is incredibly foolish and unloving for a Christian to date a non-Christian. Here are a few points to reinforce this…

1. Dating a non-Christian is incredibly short-sighted. What happens if he doesn’t become a Christian? Even if you can persuade yourself that it is somehow OK to date an unbeliever, you can’t kid yourself that’s it’s OK to marry him/her unless you rip 1 Corinthians 7.39 out of the Bible. So at […]

A Brief History of Psalm Singing

A couple of weeks ago our congregation featured as part of a programme made for the BBC tracing the development of Christian hymns from its roots in psalm singing to the present proliferation of modern praise songs. (If you live in the UK you can still watch the programme on the BBC iPlayer here). It was a great opportunity to showcase (albeit briefly) the psalms in congregational worship. Still flying the flag for Psalmody, and following hot on the heels of Jared Olivetti’s post a few days back about the suitability of the psalms for worship, I thought I’d say a few things about the pedigree of Psalm singers…

Usually if people know anything about the Reformed Presbyterian Church they know that our book of praise is the Psalter. But it’s also very likely that they don’t know why Reformed Presbyterians choose to sing only Psalms. No doubt it seems very peculiar to many nowadays. In an age when we have access to countless thousands of worship songs, why would we choose to limit ourselves to these 150 extremely ancient songs?

Is it because we want to live in the past? Are we like those American civil war buffs who dress up […]

The Christian Traveller

I spent all of Wednesday of this past week travelling from Northern Ireland to Philadelphia, and the hours of sitting in airports and being herded in queues on and off of various modes of transportation reminded me of an excellent article written by my good friend Jeremy Walker and which I am shamelessly reproducing below, with his permission.

I re-read the article while sitting at the departure gate of Boston airport on the final leg of my journey. As I reviewed the previous 14 hours of travel and assessed it in light of Jeremy’s advice I felt that I probably hadn’t done anyone any positive harm (although I suspect anyone sitting within a few seats’ radius of me when I dropped off to sleep may have disagreed! I’m reminded of a comment by Bill Bryson about his sleeping habits while travelling: ‘Most people who go to sleep on a plane look like they just need a blanket; I look like I need medical attention.’) On the other hand I did feel a dissatisfaction that I hadn’t done something more positive to help a fellow traveller – I hadn’t noticed anyone needing help with their bags or looking lost. I’m not sure […]

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 […]