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Martha’s Bum Rap

Often when we look at Biblical characters we only see them one-dimensionally. Because of this tendency, we fail to see the complexities that any human being will have. So Thomas is simply the doubter, though all the other disciples doubted Christ’s resurrection and needed the same proof as well (Luke 24:36-43), and church history tells us Thomas was one of the bravest of men. David is the giant-killer, and certainly he was, but he clearly feared a great deal as both his story and his recorded prayers in the Psalms tell us.

Such is the case of Martha. She is forever compared to her sister, Mary, and dubbed “the Worrier” because of this story contained in Luke 10:38-42.

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled […]

Hezekiah My Hero

I’ve just finished reading through 1 & 2 Kings, in Hebrew, last Friday. For the sins of King Manasseh, the nation of Judah was finally thrust out into the judgment of Exile to Babylon.

Hezekianic Analysis

Some weeks ago I did a blog entitled ‘Humbling Hezekiahs’. I had been reminded at that time about the danger of pride in leaders, particularly after times of successes. Re-reading the life and times of Hezekiah has given me a fresh more positive take on his reign – I’ve recently declared in church ‘Hezekiah is my new hero!’

Hezekianic Text

The bit of the text by which I was struck like a thunderbolt was 2 Kings 18.3:

“And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, according to all that David, his father, had done. He removed the high places and broke down the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan).”

There is far more to Hezekiah than initially meets the gaze. His reign concluded in a downfall caused by pride, when self-interest finally trumped and eclipsed a career […]

Strangers in Saunas – Update

For those who of you who are wondering how things are going in my local health club in Belfast, or praying for the ‘strangers in saunas’ with whom I was conversing, I thought it might be helpful to give you a brief update:

I’m not sure how a clerical collar would look in the sauna, but I was tempted to consider, for future ventures, wearing a ‘onesy’ or ‘Lycra body suit’ or a bathrobe, following my next encounter with another stranger in the sauna. Perhaps you may have guessed, by my slightly prudish comments, it was an older lady who entered the sauna a couple of days later. Happily we were seated in opposite corners of the sauna, but it didn’t take too long before she introduced herself, WAIT FOR IT, by her christian name FAITH.

Well, after I had recovered from the surprise (o ye of little faith!), I couldn’t help but ask “Well, tell me FAITH ….do you have faith?” It turns out, actually, that she does – and she also attends a local church, whose former minister I know of (who is, I think, very mildly evangelical). Anyway, she goes to church regularly, and expressed her thanks for the pastoral care […]

A Minister of Mercy

An Offer Too Good To Refuse

What a wonderful surprise! That’s was my reaction to the very kind and generous offer made by one of the older members of my congregation. He is a retired missionary who possesses a deep theological knowledge. I couldn’t believe my ears: ‘Take any books you like – you can have first pick from my library!” So on the appointed day, and at a pre-arranged time, I went round to my friend, with some sturdy cardboard boxes, and filled my car boot [trunk] with dozens of weighty tomes.

The Secret Workings of Providence

This all happened around the time when we recently moved house, so half of my library is still in boxes. This explains why I haven’t had much time to survey the contents properly or the leisure to digest their accumulated wisdom. Yet, as providence would have it, I recently read a quotation from Thomas Goodwin in a Banner of Truth magazine (it was either imbedded in a magazine article or just the bare quote and nothing else). The quotation was something along the lines of (my heavy paraphrase) “Salvation will not be withheld from any penitent sinner who comes to God truly believing that the Lord is full of mercy.”

Isn’t is […]

A rose or a collection of petals?

I learned something amazing about flowers the other day—that the angle between successive leaves on a stem is approximately 137 degrees. Now that particular angle is known as the golden angle. It is to circles what the golden ratio is to squares and rectangles. The golden ratio is seen as the epitome of spatial perfection and proportion—and occurs frequently in nature as well as in human design. And for leaves on a stem this interesting angle is the arrangement that gives the best access to sunlight.

I love design and mathematics, so this was right up my street and I’m sure botanists could give me a thousand more fascinating facts.

They could take a rose and dissect it and show the wonder of the stem, the bud, the way the petals interweave.

And all of that may combine to make one rose more noteworthy than another.

But when I give a rose to my wife it’s saying something far more than the sum of the botanical mathematics and geometry. It’s saying, “I love you.”

I see a parallel with preaching:

Some preachers are great at dissecting a text, analysing it from every angle and setting out every truth in it.
Some preachers are great at bringing new […]

Strangers in Saunas

After the swimming pool today, where I swam 30 lengths freestyle, I spent twenty minutes in the Sauna. It happened to be full of aged 50+ years men who were pontificating loudly and crudely about the politics of Northern Ireland.

As the air was getting ‘blue’ I thought I’d introduce God into the conversation. To a stunned silence I pronounced confidently ‘the problem with the nation is we have turned our backs on God – our people no longer have any time for Christ’ quickly followed by, half-smiling ‘I thought that would be a conversation stopper!’

Now, of course, the men felt obliged to talk. I was happy to confess I was a Christian minister. This began a debate on the role of church and state – in both European Catholic and Protestant churches. I was, with the Lord’s help, able to answer one inquirer about these matters (just about), and, to give a couple of little snippets about the US separation of powers (I hope I got it right!), when that was raised.

There ensued a free lively exchange for the next fifteen minutes or so. One man proclaimed himself an atheist and said one thing he could never understand, brought up in the […]

More on Our Maker

Surprises Galore!

This week was full of surprises, as I continued my exploration and exposition of Genesis chapter one. These are kind of things we might expect as we teach more on our Maker.

Minor Infirmities

After almost a year free from ‘man-flu’ the dreaded virus struck again. By the time I got to the pulpit to deliver the sermon, my voice was two octaves lower, and I had to cut the morning service short. My sinuses were blocked, my head was aching, and for two or three days it was very hard to think.

Tough Weeks

Nor, I must admit, was it the easiest week I’ve had. A number of things cropped up which meant some sleep was lost. Difficulties which were hard to handle, conversations which could have gone better, humanly speaking, and a number of vexing problems to which resolution at present is lacking. Heart-searching questions which demand a long, reflective, prayerful, weighed-against-scripture, look at self. It is only by the grace of God most weeks are not so draining and demanding.

Time Constraints

It was also a little bit hectic (I know that some brethren have far-more-pressing weekly schedules to ‘cry for’). There was an additional meeting to take with the youth of […]

The Antidote To Evolution

Over recent weeks I’ve been preaching, for the second time, through the opening verses of the Book of Genesis. Last Lord’s Day I delivered my first sermon on the first day. In my second point, I was defending the Mosaic account from the error of the ‘Framework Hypothesis.’ In doing so, for the very first time, I felt with intense force, both the folly and falsehood of adopting such an erroneous position (attractive though it may seem for those who want to dodge the bullet of the creation-science debate).

There surely is little doubt, like most dangerous half-truths, that Moses presents the material of the original Creation in a highly structured, schematized way. Yet, on his part, that neither implies the unhistorical nature of the account, or that the details of each day, or the times the bible allots to them, do not correspond precisely to the truth or order of the facts. In reality, quite the opposite is the case: the Holy Spirit, through Moses, has important lessons to teach us, in the material contained in Genesis 1, about the nature and character of God, and the methods by which He has worked and still works.

Planned Order

Chief among these is […]

Pastor, Are You Okay?

As servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings… labors, sleepless nights, hunger…with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through…dishonor, through slander… We are treated as impostors…as unknown…as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful…as poor…as having nothing. (Selections from 2 Corinthians 6: 4-10)

The Apostle Paul understood what it meant to fill up the sufferings of Christ. As a servant or minister of the gospel, Paul carried the sufferings of the people of God and described them in terms such as hardship and sorrow.

All ministers of the gospel know something of this suffering. I will be the first to confess that I have had a very joyful and fruitful ministry, harvesting that which others before me planted and watered. Even in the midst of great joy and happiness, however, there is a burden I carry for the church of God that came with my ordination. I carry on my heart and mind the sufferings and trials and hardships and disappointments of the men and women to whom I minister. No amount of seminary preparation could adequately prepare a man for bearing the weight of a […]

Humbling Hezekiahs

What minister is entirely free from the vestiges of self? Is it not the very best, most effective, most productive pastors who are most frequently assaulted by temptations to pride? Is it not a humbling fact that the hearts of Christian elders are so easily puffed up? If Satan was the originator of pride, and if sinners, at times, seem to thrive and revel in pride, is not every believer also in danger of succumbing to pride?

Such questions and thoughts as these have been whizzing round my neurones since the case of Hezekiah came before my mind. What, we have to ask, was going through his brain when he committed this sin? So I started to attempt to tease out the thought processes of one of Judah’s stellar monarchs. I began to meander my way slowly through the accounts of the sin of Hezekiah in scripture (2 Kings 20.12-19; 2 Chronicles 32.24-31; Isaiah 39.1-8). I was rocked by the force of the many valuable and instructive lessons and warnings to be scavenged from the spiritual carrion of the accounts of the carcass-like sin of the pride of Hezekiah.

1. Godly leaders who do much for the wellbeing of the Kingdom and honour of the House of God are still capable of committing serious, disgraceful sins that […]