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Christ’s Help for Sabbath-Keeping

I’m getting geared up to preach on Genesis 2.1-3 tomorrow morning, so I thought I would share with you a few thoughts on how Christ helps us keep the Sabbath.

First by His Example

Along with Father and Spirit, the Pre-Incarnate Word, the Logos or Eternal Son, rested on the seventh day, as the climax of Creation. The Agent of Creation did not press the pause button. The term that is used indicates total completion and fulfillment of His task. The ‘work’ mentioned twice is also a slightly unusual choice: it has been suggested this term, which is usually otherwise reserved for human employment, was chosen by the Spirit to remind human beings of the need to down tools on the Sabbath; this expression ‘work’ is a close relative of the Hebrew word for ‘angel’ or ‘messenger.’ The key thing to note, in connection with an angel, is neither a shining body nor flapping wings, but the duty to complete the messenger’s God-given commission or task. Is it hard to prove that this is the reason the term ‘work’ was used in this instance? It still remains true that, as in the work of Redemption, so also in the work of Creation, […]

Strangers in Saunas – Update 2

Just back from my Monday lunchtime swim at the gym – thought it might be good to pass on some more information.

Up to 60 lengths today – please don’t get visions of a Bluefin Tuna gliding effortlessly from end to end. My aquatics are more akin to that of the Humpback Whale!

The main thing learnt today in the Steam Room was God’s sovereignty over circumstances.

After entering and sitting I tried to start the conversation with a middle-aged guy in the corner by saying: ‘They could do with a light in here!’ I’ve often thought that to myself, so it seemed a reasonable introduction. Well, to my surprise there was no response at all. Just long silence for the next 5 minutes.

My next attempt was more fruitful: ‘The weather’s great, isn’t it?’ Now it just happens to have been the driest April on record in Northern Ireland. Yesterday also just happened to be a real ‘blue-sky belter-of-a-day’ (sorry if these colloquialisms seem strange across the pond!).

Suddenly the stranger perked up – it seems I’d struck the conversation-opener jackpot. ‘Yeh!’ he agreed. ‘Spent the whole day up the Mournes!’ (our local mountain range and of Don McLean fame).

‘Climbing were you?’ I inquired […]

Hurtful Sheep and Bullied Shepherds

The final “Amen” was given and my friend descended the pulpit and took his usual place at the back door. As people filed by shaking his hand one particular member of the congregation approached him. Foregoing any and all pleasantries he immediately began to humiliatingly pick apart the message that had only ended minutes before. Overwhelmed by the onslaught my friend had no idea what to say or do. Thankfully, an older gentleman who was visiting–actually a retired pastor–overheard the harangue and interrupted: “What do you think you’re doing?” The man replied with all seriousness: “I have the spiritual gift of nitpicking and it’s my job to humble the preacher.” Defensively, the retired pastor fired back: “That’s nothing but spiritual bullying and it’s absolutely unacceptable!”

The relationship between a pastor and the people is one that should be grounded in every Christian grace but also crowned, in a special way, with joy and love. The Apostle Paul shows his pastoral heart to the church in Corinth when he said: “And I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice, for I felt sure of all of you, […]

The Gospel According to David

I’ve just finished preaching on Psalm 19.12. I was attempting to preach the text taking careful note of context. Having now descended the pulpit my thoughts crystallised as I drove home. I have come to think of this Psalm as ‘The Gospel According to David’. I have a sneaking suspicion Paul had its structure in mind when he wrote the Gospel to the Romans.

The Glory of God in Creation – Supressed v1-6

It is this universal knowledge of God the Gentiles have spurned. Like the gushing of a fountain silent speech pours forth on earth. The sun’s relentless rays leave a magnificent message. It’s heat melts Arctic ice because no land escapes God’s light. This rejected knowledge of God leaves all men without excuse. Indeed they heard, say Paul, for:

“Their voice has gone out to all the earth and their words to the ends of the world” (Romans 10.18) “…For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, namely His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are […]

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 […]