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November 2008

Walking Down Dada Street


It is a warm winter South African morning and I am alone, walking casually down Dada Street, wondering how on earth I got here and my broad smile gives away the ecstasy of the epiphany in my soul. “Malo” I say to those I meet along the road. It is the only word (apart from Bafana Bafana!) I know in their language. It is enough to feel the deepest sense of connection. I am on the Khayelitsha township, where my skin would have been a crime big enough to hand me down an execution just over a decade before. Indeed, it is a place that most of the white South Africans I meet tell me I need security still. Luckily, indeed blessedly, for me I know these streets a lot better than they do even though I have come 6,000 miles to walk them. As I walk, feeling as happily content as anytime in my entire life I ponder on the miracle of this place and the joy of feeling a part of it and I toss up a prayer that that miracle might continue as these people that I have come to love with all of my heart fight the enemies of the shack, poverty and now HIV/AIDS.

So how did I get here? Well I think it all began in the early 1980s when the Students Union at Queen’s University in Belfast where I was then a student and am now a Chaplain changed the name of the McMordie Hall, where the likes of U2 played in their earliest days, to the Mandela Hall. It was the first time I had heard of Nelson Mandela, though at the time the Protestant community where I spent my formative years would have seen him as a terrorist and associate with the IRA. His cause would have been dismissed. It took the likes of Little Steven with his Sun City single and album to make me suddenly aware that something was askew that 87% of the population of a country had no right to vote. Peter Gabriel’s song about Steve Biko’s torture and death at the hands of his white oppressors whipped up some rage within me and U2’s Silver and Gold raised the ideas of sanctions and brought Bishop Desmond Tutu out of the shadowy reputation I had been given of him. There were then the Mandela Day concerts and his release from prison that I followed with excitement and a sense of history. It is interesting to me that it was not from ministers in pulpits that I heard of such injustices but in the songs of a radical and prophetic rock stars. That may be a book for another day.

Next in the chain that brought me to this place where I belong so comfortably was my then girlfriend and now wife coming to live in South Africa. Janice’s parents were involved with a missionary organisation that Janice later worked for. Of all the countries in southern Africa where they worked, Janice got to do short term projects in South Africa. The second of these in 1993 caused me to come and visit. It was an interesting time. The week Janice had arrived Chris Hani was shot dead and Janice was nearly sent back home in the midst of a brewing bloodbath between Mandela the former Prisoner and Mandela the future President.

My time in Peitermaritzberg was enjoyable, stimulating but ultimately very uncomfortable. I had never been in a place where I sensed that my being there was at the expense of the black people I met on the street and knew that there was a chasm between us. I felt wrong just being there. I had a strong opinion of getting out and dragging everyone with my colour of skin with me. The only way to live here would be to relate and be part of the black community and culture. To live in the white culture would be to be part of a horrendously unjust regime. But the chances of being allowed to merge into the black community was an impossible dream. My Irish shining white skin would be conspicuous and how would I have a valid reason to interact in townships like the one I visited with Janice when she went to do her knitting class in Hopewell. Well here I was, walking down Dada Street with a sense of deepest connection.

When Habitat For Humanity came to Belfast in the early 90s I knew little about its work but soon took advantage of being able to mix with those in the opposite end of the cultural divide from me as I went to dig foundations and paint bedrooms in the predominantly nationalist Iris Close in west Belfast. When I got around to thinking about an overseas trip for the students I work with they were the obvious organisation and when I heard they built houses in South Africa I knew that that was where I needed to go. I’d holidayed in Cape Town and loved it. Let us go there. Let us make some kind of a difference and let us look at division and reconciliation, so necessary in our own place, as we do so. So, back in 2000, we went. Fifteen of us came to Khayelitsha and built two houses and the foundations of another. It was so good to be back.

There have been many good changes in the two years since I last walked these streets. The aim in this suburb of the vast Khayelitsha township known as Harare is to get rid of the shacks by 2005. When they first shared this slogan with me, I laughed. There was no way that was going to happen. It was a crazy dream. Yet as I walk down Dada Street today I notice the steady encroachment of real brick houses. I believe now that they can achieve it and we can move on to some other area to continue the eradication of this particular enemy.

In some ways for those of us who visit, it is a sad thing. The shacks are so colourful. They are so unique. So artistic. The spell out an individuality on the skyline that is sadly erased by brick and mortar. They photograph with a beauty and sadness that is hard to match. But they do not do well when the Cape Doctor comes to call with its stormy gales and heavy rain. For us they are an intrigue but for those who live in them they are no shelter. Neither are they a home in the truest sense of the word. I did say in township Churches where I was given the privilege of sharing a few words that we were no building homes and that the love and sense of relationship that make up homes could be just as alive in shacks as in bricked walls, but for the Xhosa people of Cape Town most have come from eastern cape looking for work and the shack will never make them anything but a migrant people without root or sense of belonging. Maybe the solidity of a house might allow them to sense a home and a stable future.

That is what I am doing on Dada Street; heading from one house that my student group are building down to another one. Mixing some cement, bagging a few walls, carrying some bricks, making the trusses for the roof and being general labourers to the black builders. There again is the revolution. White labourers working to black builders would have been unheard of in the old South Africa and in some ways does not sit easily with the black builders whose conditioning will take time to unravel but it is our contribution. Turning how it has been upside down to conjure something else. It is trying to bring new order of things in this place where the old order was so unjust, uncivilised and just plain unbelievable.

Indeed, we try to imagine sometimes the lives of those we work with and become friends with. Did these men, some of whom cannot read or write and have lived through apartheid ever dare to think that they would know any kind of freedom from that evil. As an aside in a meeting with FW De Klerk he pointed out not as a way out of the blame but as an excused to the sin that all the National party in South Africa did was to write down and make law what the rest of the world and particularly the United States Of America were doing with colour division in the late fifties and early sixties, so let us all repent of our past racism. Anyway, after five weeks walking down Dada Street, I wanted to ask everyone their story. What was life like for you in the apartheid years? How were you involved in the emancipation? What has it been like since 1994 coming to terms with the new ways of things, the good things and the disappointments of realising that it would take years to undo the poverty and psyche of a people caught up in such a regime. Certainly it takes a nimbleness of mind gymnastics for these builders to see us on level terms. That is another of the positive signs that we see two years on. The builders we built with last time have developed in so many ways and there is less of a problem in connection. Time is probably not moving fast enough for these people but it is moving. We just want to be part of the acceleration.

Of course if the poverty of the shack or the evil of apartheid were not enough enemies South Africa is feeling like Job before God again, as the horror of HIV/AIDS strikes. During our few weeks in Cape Town South Africa rose to the top of the HIV/AIDS league tables and most of the cases are right here in the township communities around Dada Street. It is an every day reality and friends here have the every day dilemma to date someone or not and how to pick a husband or wife and stay alive.

Our Aids awareness came through the other part of our trip. As well as building houses we wanted to look at issues of reconciliation and by seeking out Rev Dr Spiwo Xapile we opened up a new visit of Cape Town experiences. Spiwo is quite some man, brought up in rural Eastern Cape at Ngqeleni near Umtata, he is now the minister of JL Zwane Memorial Presbyterian Church in Guguletu. A charismatic man in and out of his pulpit he has not shirked the challenges of being a pastor in an Aids ridden, impoverished and divided society but instead thanks God for the privilege of having to make the words he preaches real in the actions he does. That includes reaching the hand of forgiveness to the white man oppressor, educating his people to take up their roles in the new South Africa and caring for those with Aids while seeking to educate those who still have the chance of avoiding it. As well as deep satisfaction in what he does he has among other things won the prestigious Presidents Award for community development for the Community Centre that he and a white Africaaner Professor from Stellenbosh University built with vision, energy and the ability to sell their mission to people with money.

That his colleague Jan Du Toit was working in Stellenbosh University is quite a story in itself. A bastion of apartheid it was the very University that the theology of apartheid was designed and yet when Spiwo went seeking help for a student from Guguletu who was struggling with language problems he got more than he asked for and more than he dreamed. Jan is an Africaaner and the two men though deeply fond of one another and comrades in the trenches are never slow to admit the huge chasm between them. They come from very different conditioning on how things are done and Spiwo can become too pushy for Jan while Jan can be too patient for Spiwo. They had every reason not to start working together and in the journey they have come many reasons to walk away but their desire to change things, to give hope and a future to their people both in Western Cape where they live and in Eastern Cape where they are from and have begun another project drives them on, to give and take with each other for the higher goal. It is inspirational in the scope of the dream and in the nitty, gritty of how it works out.

That focus on the future is maybe what we from Ireland were most taken by. The forgiveness of the past in order to reach that future is what overwhelmed us. As I walk down Dada Street getting those people who had been oppressed in the vilest of ways by people with my colour of skin why would they greet me with the whitest and brightest and warmest of smiles? As we built houses why would they want to befriend us, laugh with us, share their conversation with us? Why would the children make us into popstars? How can this welcome be? Why and how can they forgive? I am not saying that there are not those in the shacks of the Cape Flats who would not be so welcoming and who would perhaps harbour a grudge and act upon that grudge but none of these people should give us the time of day and yet they gave us all that they had. They have an ability to forgive that is a miracle of humanity itself.

I guess as you walk around Robben Island and see where Nelson Mandela spent so many years of his life, peer in at that cell with its bucket and cup and mattress and room for little else and imagine how he was not broken by the hostility of that prison regime but instead turned it into a factory of magnificent souls you see in one man’s story the story of millions of others. These are a people who can love their enemies, who can pray for those who hate them, bless those who cursed them and do good to those ill treated them. South Africa is a modern miracle and the people of streets like Dada Street are those who have made it so. They are an inspiration and challenge to all of us who live in divided communities. They scream at us in their gentle humility that there can be another way. As Spiwo Xapile says it is a privilege to be a Christian in a place where you get a real opportunity to do what the Gospel is about and forgive people so his people become a shop window to the world of how the cross of Christ and the teachings of Jesus can be lived out to make a world of difference.

And yet there is still a huge need for more difference. Every Sunday in Spiwo’s Church there is an Aids testimony. Someone infected by the disease or affected by it shares their story and where God might be sought and found in their tragic experience. We listened one of the Sundays we were there to a woman whose sister died of Aids and whose niece a gorgeous five year old girl who was HIV positive. She shared her anger with God her struggle to care for her niece in case she or her family would catch the virus but how God had given her then deepest love to change her attitude from the girl being a disease to being her little treasure. It is moving stuff and everyday life. A doctor in Spiwo’s congregation is out caring for people dying of the disease 24/7. It is again a tragic scenario that allows the grace of God to be shown in a moment by moment reality.

The singing on a Sunday morning in JL Zwane Memorial is something you could never dream of hearing. It is the sound of heaven itself. Xhosa with all its clicks is a language of great poetic sound to begin with but when this Church starts to sing there is a melody that rises and surrounds you to almost consume you with an angelic whoosh! However, in the midst of the singing, it would not take long though to see a similar problem to Church life back home in Northern Ireland. There is a serious lack of men. And so the Church is helping Ace through college as a football coach. Ace is a former professional soccer player and an all round dude who has been mentored well by Dr Xapile. He exudes warmth and respect and has down to earth relational skills that draw you to simply want to be his friend and most people are! Ace is attempting to reach out through soccer to the young men of the township. It is a difficult task. When our students played Ace’s team a match, the rematch had to be against another team because one of his team had been shot dead days before the game. It is again the reality of the place of the dreams but the dreams go on and the dreams will come true. This is the kind of place where that is easy to believe in the most impossible of situations.

So what did we do? In truth; not a lot. We built six houses, three on Masiphumelele out near Fish Hoek and three on Khayelitsha. We also built a few walls in the KTC township and helped lay the slab in Mandela Park at Hout Bay. In the midst of a country, even a city so vast this seems like very little but when you do what some of us had the privilege of doing and visiting houses you had built two years previously you sensed that you were doing something. People appreciated the effort. In the end I would say that in all the preaching I have done over twenty years, these weeks of helping top build houses are the only useful things I have done in my entire life. Hopefully we broke down stereotypes of whites, maybe we encouraged South African whites to go into places they would have been fearful to tread had the Irish not gone first. Maybe we encouraged those bringing about miracles to keep on going. In the end though we brought back to Northern Ireland more than we took away. We brought back serious challenges about what it is to live out faith in Christ and not just talk or preach about. We brought back hope that our wee corner of the world might end up a place of miracles too. We brought back friendships that will never end and challenges to help those we met and became friends with in the longer haul. We came back determined to go back and to help make a difference in some ways until we do. When we asked Spiwo what we could leave he answered as simply and profoundly as usual – “your hearts.” Spiwo and Ace and Lucas, Vusi, Tyholani, Vuyisile, Bom Bom, Nsoka, Grant and Donné you can be sure that our hearts are there and we will be coming back to join them soon.

As I walk down Dada Street untangling all of his epiphany and smiling to myself at all this of which I have the privilege to untangle, there is one lingering thought that will haunt me for some time, provoking my spirit and searching me deep to the soul. When FW De Klerk shared with us the lessons he had learned in the South African peace process he told us that the first one was to search yourself right down to the bone for your motives and sins and weaknesses. Lesson two was to make sure that after you’ve searched you did not delude yourself that you had done it. That is a life’s work in the personal and in the political realm. It is not just vital to peace but whatever else we hope to do that is useful during our time here on earth.

The Bible - to be Lived or Read?


I was sharing an event with a friend, Susie Hamilton from Christian Aid, recently and as I had a passage of Scripture to read, I asked her if she would be reading anything, in case we read the same thing. With a smirk and the hugest dollop of irony she said, “Oh no, I don’t read the Bible, I just live it!”

We laughed, but I have not been able to get it out of mind ever since. It amazes me still that we both thought that the weakness or spiritual dubiousness of the statement was that she didn’t read the Bible. That she lived it was never going to balance up the judgement of the suspicion such a phrase would hold over the credibility of her walk with God. It is actually staggering that we have come to laugh at her throw away line rather than get to s stage in our lives where that is actually not ironic but true.

Indeed what has become even scarier to me in my reflections on this sentence has been the idea that actually for us Christian living has far more to do with reading the Bible than in living it. When we set down the precepts of Christian living that old children’s chorus “Read your Bible and pray every day if you want to grow” almost concludes that the growth will be more reading the Bible and more prayer rather than going to live the Bible and answer the prayers.

Now please do not get me wrong. I am not saying that we should not read the Bible. Indeed if we stop to analyse it there is no way you can live it without having read it. What I am contending and provoking my own soul with is the time we give to the reading of it and the time we give to the living of it. Is there a balance? Are we being distracted from the living of it by the amount of virtue we have given to the reading of it.

“Justification by the quiet time” is a 20th century ailment. Until the last century there was no way that every believer could have access to Bibles or the resources of daily reading notes now readily available in Christian bookshops and the vestibule on the way out of Church. Literally believers had a very different relationship with God’s word in centuries past than we have now. Maybe those who couldn’t read it had no other option but to relate to it by living what they heard read or preached on in Church. The absolute blessing of the Quiet Time idea may have become a curse in not only distracting us from acting upon what we read but also by filling us with a sense of duty to3wards the revelation of God and worse again the burden of guilt by not taking time to read it.

Which brings me to another conversation with another friend. This time in a discussion group on cyberspace someone was lamenting how they had been shamed into realising they had left their Bible unopened on the Washing Machine from Sunday throughout most of the week. How I wished! I wished that I could leave the Bible sitting in my Utility Room and ignore it the rest of the week. Sadly, it goes so much with me that there is not a movie, not a book, not a song, not a newspaper article not a conversation where that book does not have its say in my response. It is what makes life particularly tricky at times. It is a daily experience of mine to watch the pages of the Bible flicking across to stop at a truth that is relevant to a conversation or more likely to point me to decision making challenge.

I remember reading a letter in the Belfast Telegraph where someone was suggesting that Christians could not forgive their enemies in Northern Ireland (automatically assumed to be the IRA) before they repented. The specifics were that until the IRA decommissioned all its weapons then we had no obligation to negotiate with them or try to reach out in mercy and grace to them in the name of peacemaking. If only I didn’t have to love my enemies until they become like me my life would be so much easier. If I could leave the Bible on a washing machine I would be okay but immediately I read this letter its pages were opening in my soul and flicking across to Jesus on the cross saying, Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.” Now if He forgives those who murdered him even when they did not realise they were doing wrong what does that say to us about the need to forgive even our enemies. You see the Bible refuses to be left down.

Again that points out a relationship with Scripture. It is not words on a page that are read. It is truth that lives as part of my entire worldview. It remains open all day long. It should never be restricted to the leather covers and gold etched pages but should become a part of us. In his letter Paul encouraged the Colossians to “let the word of God dwell in you richly (3 v 16).” He never told them to read it every day. He told them to get to know it so well that it would never be left down.

That means reading it until it becomes a part of us. I used to read it for hours and I have to confess I don’t read it in that same way anymore. I feel my relationship has changed. Do not get me wrong, I am not encouraging a familiarity with the text that makes us felt hat we know it all and do not have to read it ever again. Not at all, I am thankful though and sometimes well annoyed that the Holy Spirit has now embedded enough of it on the computer of my soul that he can call up all kinds of dynamics of dilemma right throughout my day.

So where do we aim. I want to not be a reader of it so much as a liver of it. I do not want to be able to leave one passage on the washing machine. It is a Word that I long to make flesh, to live in every moment of my day and night. So Susie I am not laughing anymore. Your humour and irony has changed into the most serious of truth.

The Fruit of the Spirit - Growing up Spiritually

This is the script of a talk given by Stocki at Queens University Christian Union on November 6th 2003. Those who know him will know it probably turned out very different and more energetic live but here it is anyway...They wanted him to speak about the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5...

Thou shalt not wear
Thou shalt not drink
Thou shalt not joke
Thou shalt not think
Thou shalt not hear
Thou shalt not see
Thou shalt not say
Thou shalt not be
Thou shalt settle down in the trenches
In the land of the thou shalt nots
What on earth then can we do
My goodness I've forgot.

Thou shalt go to church on Sunday
Thou shalt wear a plastic smile
Thou shalt be content to be discontent
Thou shalt be happy in a little while
Thou shalt talk about the needy
Thou shalt pray they make it through
Thou shalt thank the Lord you're not like them
Though shalt be orange and blue
Though shalt settle down in quarantine
In the land of the thou shalt nots
And everyone you ever meet
Will long for what you've got.

Thou shalt not even enter a public house
Thou shalt not turn water into wine
Thou shalt not question authority
Thou shalt not put religion on the line
Thou shalt not mix with sinners
Thou shalt not talk to prostitutes
Thou shalt not be in the world at all
Thou shalt not be their substitute
Thou shalt settle down in the trenches
In the land of the thou shalt nots
And all this talk of a radical Jesus
Is just some Muslim, Buddhist, communist, humanist, socialist, ecumenical, new age, popish PLOT!

Many of us live in THE LAND OF THE THOU SHALT NOTS and it is not where God wants us to be. There is a bizarre little behavioural and theological quirk at play in evangelical Christianity. In evangelism there is an emphasis on how salvation is not about what we do but about what God does for us. Rooted in Paul’s words to the Ephesians, - “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2 v 8 & 9) – we find one of Christianity’s main differences with other religions. You do not find God by human or ritual endeavours. It is not what we do to get to God, it is what God does for us in Jesus death and resurrection. He has entered time and space history to be part of the act that redeemed or bought us back from our state of lostness. We do not find God. He finds us. Grace. It is Christianity in one unique concept and one amazing word.

Grace flies in the face of our intuition. There is no such thing as a free lunch. You cannot get something that easy never mind something of such enormous consequences. Our intuition finds it impossible to believe. That will always be a reminder to us of how incredible Christianity is but it has to also warn us that our natural inclination will be to not believe it. I believe that we who live with an evangelical mindset and hopefully lifestyle wrestle and struggle with this belief. We use the words and stand by it uncompromisingly theologically but I think that pragmatically there is no such belief at the engine room of our lives. Our human intuition needs to bring back systems of works. So we end up believing that you cannot be saved by works, only by grace but when you find your salvation you have to work like the clappers to maintain it. This reveals a misunderstanding of grace, a misunderstanding of our relationship with God and leads to a new evangelical legalism that is an antithesis of evangelical.

This is not at all new and the book of Galatians is Paul correcting these three errors of thought and practice. It would seem that the people in Galatia heard the astounding truth of the Gospel of Christ’s grace and took off enthusiastically before the human intuition stalled them and through religious leaders who would seem to have had a genuine soundness they were led back into legalism and works. Paul lashes out in an anger that let us know in no uncertain terms how serious this regression is to the well being of the faith in proclamation and in outworking. The pages of Galatians are peppered with an agitation, worry and incredulous disbelief that what was going so well could take such a twist. He wants the perpetrators condemned even if it is an angel! It is the very core of Christianity that is at stake for Paul. It is what Christ died for. We were set free to live outside of the law which can only condemn us. We are cursed if we trust in legalistic religion and it is that very thing that Christ redeemed us from.

For some of us we see grace as a ticket to heaven. Of course it is indeed that but it would be very wrong to confine it to that. Grace is the only key to unlock the gates of heaven but it has much more power and impact than that. Grace is also the engine room of Christian living. Paul said to the Church in Philippi that he was “confident that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Isaac Newton put it well in Amazing Grace, “Grace has brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home.” There seems to be a lot of teaching about how grace works in saving us from the penalty of sin and indeed the in the future from the very presence of sin but very little teaching about how grace continually saves us from the power of sin in the present. Grace is the means of our justification and also the only means of our sanctification. Justification is the theological word that describes our positional holiness. In other words Christ’s blood washes our sins clean and therefore we can stand before a holy God righteous. A righteousness as Paul called it that is not “of my own that comes from the law but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” Sanctification is the practical holiness that comes to grow and ripen in our lives as we walk in that new relationship. As Christ’s sacrifice was the means of grace that brings us justification so the Holy Spirit is the one who is the means of grace that brings the fruit of the Spirit into our lives. It is the fruit of the Spirit not our efforts to keep the law!

This is of course a radical departure from Old Testament discipleship. Similarly radical were Jesus words to his disciples – if you love me you will keep my commands. Our new relationship with God does not mean we do things because we have to. We do them because we want to. The drive within us comes from a very different source. Is this therefore a contradiction of the Old Testament? Not at all. Paul deals with this too in this letter to the Galatians. In chapter 4 he speaks of heirs who are children needing guardians and trustees but when their time comes they have full rights as adult sons and daughters.

As a father of small heirs myself I often see the difference between those who are children and have to be under the guardian and those who are mature and are set free. When I cross the road with Caitlin and Jasmine I will stand at the edge of the kerb and force them to go through the ritual. Look and listen…Look right, look left, look right again and if there is nothing walk straight across, looking both ways while you cross! There may then be a time when we are all walking down the Lisburn Road when I will say to Janice I am nipping over the road here to get a paper. I will then just head straight across. You do not see the Lisburn Road full of adults doing some sort of green cross code. Why? Are they reckless? Are they contradicting what they learned as children and tell their children? No they are a fulfilment of it.

As I walk across freely and outside of rituals and codes I am doing everything that I was taught to do but I do them with a freedom and here is the key an almost subconscious care that is driven from within my conditioning rather than from some outside system. Paul and the writers of the New Testament are always wanting us to grow up, to move on to deeper and maturer things. Rules are for the children who are just born. We need to grow up. I was struck particularly on Sunday morning in Church as we read, “Therefore let us leave behind the elementary teachings about Christ behind and go on to maturity.” The elementary things were repentance and baptism, resurrection and judgement. These things are not forgotten or dismissed but they become a part of the childish development so that we can move on to so much more.

What we need more than anything else is the fruit of the Spirit. This is what God wants to bring in our lives. Whose fruit? Not ours! These fruit are what allows us to become mature and not have to stop at the side of the road. People wills ay to me so does that mean you can do anything at all. Well if you are saying that the rule book is torn up yes but if you are saying that it is replaced by maturity and the fruit of the Spirit – no! I don’t see anywhere in the Bible where it tells us not to drink so does that mean we can go out and get hammered. Of course not. The fruit of the Spirit is self control! And yes for some of us tonight we are childish in those things and we need to set down rules about our relationship with bars and alcohol BUT we must never ever stay in that same place. We need to go grow up in faith so that the fruit of the Spirit makes it absolutely impossible for us to come into any dangers from alcohol abuse. This is the aim.

Let me take an aside here and look at Bible reading. We have rules and regulations about that too. If we don’t read our Bibles then we feel we have somehow annoyed God and broke down relationships. We are burdened by guilt and shame. This is a return to the law and we know already what Paul says about that. But let me spell something out to you. A friend of mine said to me once that they felt so bad because they had left the Bible on the washing machine in the Utility room when they came home from Church and had not looked at until about Thursday. Now I need to say that I find it impossible to leave the Bible on the washing machine. Sometimes I wish I could. My relationship with Scriptures is not when I open it in the morning and evening. I have a moment by moment relationship with it. It is so much a part of who I am that its pages flick and turn to words that caress and collide with every person and situation and song and film and magazine article that meet me in my day. How can this have happened? Well as a spiritual baby I was legalistic and read my Bible religiously so that when I grew up it would read me.

Back to the fruit of the Spirit. There are nine that none of us can ever remember. I would like to break them into three groups. There are LOVE, JOY & PEACE which are about our relationship with God, then there are PATIENCE, KINDNESS & GOODNESS which are about our relationship with each other. Finally there are FAITHFULNESS, GENTLENESS & SELF CONTROL which have to do with our relationship with ourselves.

LOVE, JOY & PEACE come from God and are dispositions. Do we know that we are loved? Have we a deep seated joy even when our friends leave us for heaven? Is there a peace that dwells at the heart of us that empowers us to love and bring joy and peace into our world? If that grace we spoke about is what drives us then we will have these things. If we are still hanging out in the land of the Thou Shalt Nots then we will never find them. Knowing in the depths of your soul that you are loved as you are changes everything. If we find them in God we will have a security in them. If we are dependent on people and circumstances for these things we will never find them. Insecurity and inferiority will mar our existence and leave us without the ability to ripen the other fruit.

PATIENCE, KINDNESS & GOODNESS are about how we treat our fellow human beings. When we know love, joy and peace from God and know that they only come from his attitude towards us and what he has done for us we will begin to be compelled to treat others in the same way. We will be slow to anger at our friends behaviour or even that of our enemies. As God gives us time so we will give time. We will learn to be as kind as Jesus was and begin to do good things to those in the world around us. Again these are not acts we do because we have to but are things that will start to sprout through in our lives as we begin to become more and more consumed by the Spirit and more and more aware of the truth of the Gospel.

FAITHFULNESS, GENTLENESS & SELF CONTROL are things that grow within us that come out in some ways through our patience, kindness and goodness. How are we in holding friendships. Do we run from tricky scenarios? Are we gentle in standing for truth? Are we in control of our bodies etc?

Jesus said that loving God and our fellow humans would keep all of the law. If we see these fruit in our lives it a similar thing. God does not set us down things he wants us to do. He tells us how he wants us to be. In being this we will do all we need be doing but the drive will be inward and organic and alive instead of outward and religious and cold.

So do we just lie back and wait. Not a bit of it. We can plough and water and tend. As God’s word falls in your life Jesus warned us that some might fall on the road. Have no roads. Plough it up. Some might fall in the thorns. Weed it out. Some might fall in shallow ground. Dig deeper. Make it all fall into a life that is desiring to grow up.

U2 put it well. “You know I believe it…but I still haven’t found what I am looking for.” Seek to keep moving. As Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians “press on towards the prize.” “All of us who are mature should take such a view of things.”

Alarms and Surprises - Please!


In July 2002 I was with my students on the Guguletu township in Cape Town, South Africa and I was asked to say a little bit about what my group was doing there. We were building houses on townships with Habitat For Humanity but when I started to explain why we had chosen Cape Town I was left untangling an interesting spiritual conundrum. In explaining my rage at apartheid and my following of the story of those I was now worshipping with I suddenly came to realise that it had not been from Church pulpits, Conference lecterns or Christian books that had had raised my righteous anger against the institutional racism that treated these people as something less than made in the image of God. Those who had spoken into my world were for the most part not even of a Christian profession; rock musicians like Little Steven, Peter Gabriel, Tracey Chapman, Jackson Browne and even Simple Minds. Why was the two edged scalpel of Biblical prophecy that operated on my comfortable soul in the hands of rock stars and not Church leaders?

On my return home I landed into the middle of the Steve Earle controversy on news pages across the world. Earle, for those who are unaware is a critically acclaimed singer songwriter who bridges the gap between country and rock. Known as quite a hell raiser he had never quite raised hell like this. His six marriages, his cocaine habit, his jail sentence all suddenly seemed like bland mundane small town consequences compared to being accused of being a traitor of America. That is how a section of the American media responded to his album Jerusalem calling for a boycott of any radio station that played it or any record store that stocked it. Earle has been quick to defend himself as being “urgently American” in what he sees as crisis days for his country. In foreword on the CD booklet he calls himself “the loneliest man in America”, and hauntingly predicts his vilification as he points out that during the Vietnam War “it was suggested by some that second guessing our leaders in a time of crisis was unpatriotic.”

My conundrum raised its head again. It is another rock star raising the issues of the day, speaking into the very heart of our exigent. Was this not what the prophets were all about? Would Jeremiah, Isaiah, Amos and the other Old Testament Prophets have been accused of betraying their people at a time when sympathy was needed? Would they have ever felt like the loneliest men in the land? Would they have been accused of being unpatriotic for second guessing the King or Queen? Would they have held to the belief that rather than being traitors they were “urgently Jewish?”

FW De Klerk the former President of South Africa came and spoke to our students just days after that Church service in Guguletu. History will show De Klerk to have been one of the most courageous leaders of the twentieth century, the man who freed Nelson Mandela and put him on the path from Robben Island jail to becoming his successor as President. Yet he was despised by many of his own people as a traitor, sacrificing his place in power to bring justice, by unravelling the oppressive regime that members of his own family had been involved in laying down. He spoke to our students about reconciliation and the things he had learned about peace making. The first rule in engaging with your enemy, he said, was to take a good hard look at yourself. To look down to the very bone and search out your own prejudices and put those right. The second lesson was to not delude yourself into thinking that you had done the first! These seem universal truths to any society that is seeking to live right. Indeed the prophets were men and women seeking to examine their people to the very marrow of the soul in order to put right the obvious and oftentimes oblivious wrongs at the heart of their nation.

Steve Earle might just be a prophet. For sure he cuts to the marrow. Jerusalem is the other side of the coin from, The Rising, Bruce Springsteen’s response to September 11th and a different currency entirely from Toby Keith’s “my country right or wrong” war mongering on his frighteningly successful Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue (The Angry American). Where Springsteen pastors his nation through the mourning and loss of the outrageous attack against them to bring some healing, hope and a way forward, Earle has taken to prophesying at the things below the surface of his country that caused the world’s suspicion, derision and hatred.

The fuss is over what many are calling the centre piece of the album, John Walker’s Blues, though it might be more the centre of the controversy than the musical pivot or political spine of the treatise. Those who have been provoked to almost wish Earle on to the Death Row that he has been vocally campaigned against in recent years, believe this to be a vindication of the American John Walker Lindh who turned his back on the American Dream he was born into in order to join the Taliban. It is nothing of the kind but more simply an attempt to provoke some insight into the sins of America that could have caused him to seek salvation in such a violent anti American train of Islam. Of course there is nothing simple about that but questions that need to be asked of a nation that seems to see herself as some righteous, infallible paragon of virtue that is judge and jury of all that is right and civilised in the world today. Delusions of spiritual grandeur in the midst of such a division between rich and poor and lack of care for the marginalized and desire for all things hedonistic and materialist was exactly the kind of thing that the prophets were raised up to rage against.

And Earle rages! The first words are spoken with an ominous apocalyptic growl of a whisper – “ashes to ashes” – before Earle warns that “nobody lives forever” and rips open the sensitive wounds of America with “every tower ever built tumbles” in a song that reminds us of the temporary nature of our place in the grand scheme of history. But it is bloody and gory and raging against man’s inhumanity to man and exposes how even more horrific it is when it is fired by “God on our side” arrogance.

From a rebuke of foreign policy we move to Amerika v.6.0 (The Best That We Can Do), an attack on home policies that leaves the rich more equal than others and democracy being about keeping the poor outside the gates of the country club, “I realise that ain’t exactly democracy/But it’s either them or us/and it’s the best that we can do.” It was written for the movie John Q where a man takes an Emergency Ward hostage to try and get his son the medical care that in a democracy can only be given to those who have the right insurance package. It was removed from the film because in the light of September 11th it was seen to be too insensitive in its criticism of George W. Maybe that in itself tripped a switch in Earle to be even less compromising than ever before.

This seems to be the actual centre piece of the record. It was the first song written and it is the song that mentions the Constitution that Earle surmises to be the only hope left in an America and in that foreword he demands “Fierce vigilance against the erosion of its proven principles.” The lyrics of Amerika v 6.0 could be straight from Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Amos or Isaiah. It rants against a nation where there has come too big a chasm between the rich and the poor and the sarcasm of the shrug of “the best that we can do” needs a response and quickly if the whole thing is not going to fall apart.

What Earle did on Jerusalem is what De Klerk demands and what we often pray from Psalm 139 verses 23 and 24, “Search me, Oh God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me, in the way everlasting.” He and other musicians have been making incisions through the pain to get to the diseased heart itself. Where most of today’s pop music is a palliate, dulling the pain or giving some hedonistic running on the spot relief, the need is to reach into the wounds that a healing might begin.

Don Henley of The Eagles, whose Greatest Hits 1971-75 is America’s biggest selling rock album of all time has moved away from the fist fighting drug fuelled haze that The Eagles were famous for become a prophetic voice against many things maybe most particular commerce and industry. On his most recent album Inside Job he rages against the “captains of industry/and their tools on the hill/They’re killing everything divine/What will I tell this child of mine.” Not only is he anxious to reveal the sins of the production line but the market place is also leading us into temptations that we could find it hard top be delivered from. Working It is specifically about the commercial lies and deception of the music industry but has more universal application. He introduced it on VH1 Storytellers by saying, “This is a song about corporate America…It’s about the marketplace, salesmanship, the lengths we will go…” The song tells us that “packaging is all that heaven is” before throwing over the tables in the temple of business, “We’ve got a whole new class of opiates/To blunt the stench of discontent/In these corporate nation-states/Where the loudest live to trample on the least/they say it is just the predatory nature of the beast.” It is strong stuff and filled with the passionate spirit and very same themes of the prophets and echoes the obsession of Jesus about how we treat the least.

Henley’s west coast neighbour and erstwhile songwriting partner, Jackson Browne is probably the archetypal rock prophet. Indeed when like Earle, Browne raged against America’s involvement in central America during the eighties he fell down quite a few rungs of the rock ladder, having perched himself almost at the top of it at the end of the seventies. On his 1996 album Looking East he too looked across the American horizon. The album title and lead off track were about him standing on the beaches of California with his back to the Pacific and asking the big questions about what was going on across the continent “Where the search for the truth is conducted by a wink and a nod/And where power and position are equated with the grace of God/These times are famine for the soul while for the senses it’s a feast/From the edge of my country, as far as you can see, looking east.” One of his conclusions “in the deepening night” is that there is “a God sized hunger underneath the laughing and the rage.”

These rock prophets are ploughing up the dirt across the nation and what they are turning up is spiritual bankruptcy. There is a great spiritual challenge in the work of such artists and lest we are stupid enough to think they are singing about American issues we need to realise that their baseball cap not only fits, it is very snug.

Like I found in the Cape Town pulpit last summer Earle, Browne and Henley and others like them have been those who have given my discipleship its vitality in recent years. They have inspired me to follow Jesus radical agenda about “thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done one earth as it is in heaven” more than sermons or most Christian books. The conundrum is then back in the forefront of the mind. Why is it that rock stars draw comparisons to the Old Testament prophets and not a modern Church that goes on and on about the prophetic? Maybe never before in the history of the Church has so much emphasis been put on prophetic words and visions. The faithful in the growing charismatic movement go forward in weekly ritual to have supposedly gifted men give the direct line from heaven and yet the music coming out of such places is usually little short of sentimental self indulgent clichés about how God blesses us rather than the strong words that prophets were really made of.

Of course the Psalms are as much a part of the Old Testament as the Prophetic books and of course there should be worship music coming out of the Church but the conundrum is querying the balance, especially in a Church so anxious to take the moniker “prophetic.” Could it be that we go to Church for the palliate of the gentle melodies of our new worship movement or the celebratory rocked up pioneering versions. Where are the Ezekiels, and Isaiahs who are searching us to the very bone? Of course there are Christians very much involved in environmental issues and Christian Aid and Tear Fund raise the issues and help us act against all kinds of injustices. Bono has been raging across the world and even there he is still treated with suspicion among believers. Can we really say though, and maybe we can, that our leaders, in general are speaking with the cutting thrust of these rock musicians who as far as I am aware have no profession of faith in Christ. Could it be that they are saying things that we need to engage with and more importantly are they saying things where we are sinfully silent?

Let us draw to conclusion by looking at two newer artists, both of whom happen to be British. As we think of the palliate dulling the pain and missing the actual illness, David Gray’s Let The Truth Sting from his criminally neglected debut album Centuries End leads us onward. Gray does to late twentieth century Britain what Earle, Henley and Browne do to America. He looks across what he calls the land and gives diagnosis. The conclusion of this most literate of songs is that “into lies, ruin, disease/Into wounds like these/ Let the Truth sting.” Is that not our calling? In the church we worship in should we not be those who are urgently Christian, shaking up the status quo no matter what the reaction so long as we search our institutions down to the bone.

Should we not be urgently British gazing from coast to coast asking questions about those in power whether in politics, business, media or indeed Church and asking if their actions are accountable, if the results are those that God demanded in Amos when he said “Hate evil and love good, work it out in the public square.” In Birds another song off Century’s end, Gray irritates the soul again “And these are just thoughts/For lack lustre times/I’ve no interest/ In the excuses you can find/ Like you’ve had a hard day/And you’re too tired to care.” He describes society but as a Church member I apply it even closer to home, “A hollow people bound by a lack/Of imagination and too much looking back/Without the courage to give a new thing a chance/Grounded by this ignorance…and the cat comes and we are birds without wings.” Oh my goodness, preach it David, preach it!

On their much acclaimed Ok Computer album Radiohead speak for the busy and comfortable third millennium human with “a heart that’s full like a landfill,” who is happy “to take the quite life, a handshake, some carbon monoxide and no alarms and no surprises.” In the end a pretty house and a pretty garden and no alarms or surprises is the desire of the day. Never the hypocrites the Oxford band followed the success of OK Computer, that put them close to the “best band on the planet” label by setting off the loudest alarms and turning surprise to shock as they released an album of musical disjointed impressionistic avant garde that would on its very existence ask questions of the pop world’s attitude to product and charts and fame and art.

It asks questions of the Church too. Is the Church, even the pseudo lively and passionate wing of it, creating a safe place, a comfortable hotel-like Church where you can go outside like a tourist with a camera and be fascinated by what you see but can ultimately return to your room where everything will be laid out for you and you can simply relax and be blessed by a prophetic word or nice new worship song. Lies Damned Lies sing about “having eyes to see and ears to hear/What do you hear?” And I guess where do we hear? Let us keep our ears open in the most unlikely of places. Let us listen for alarms and surprises. Please!

Shake Your Fists and Pick a Fight


If tonight were an end of term service for missionaries about to go overseas, there would be some hoo ha! You would be given cards as you leave with photographs and prayer letters. You would be remembered in PWAs and congregations and have your slot in Points For Prayer. And missionaries deserve our respect. They have sacrificed their home comforts and probably a much healthier pay packet to go to the furthest parts of the world to share the Gospel with those who have never heard it. They are God’s servants, out there shining light in the darkness. They deserve our respect and prayers. I am not questioning that at all that at all.

And of course there are those at home. There are ministers, pastors, city missioners, deaconesses, family workers, and youth workers. They are called out of the ordinary workplace to dedicate themselves to working for Christ. Again we need to support them and in many situations (not mine might I add!) pay them a lot more than we do. You hear people complain about the pastor getting a new car when there is no way they would be prepared to work for the kind of wage that the pastor works for. For some reason we think he deserves less because he is working for God. Bizarre? So we need to care for, affirm and look after those who are “good living (I hate that phrase!), for a living!”

And yet, I have a problem with the setting apart of missionaries and ministers and “fulltime” Christian workers. Perhaps my problem is not that they are set apart but that we have not set apart everyone else. I was at an ordination once where I heard a minister suggest that though it was good to be a lawyer or a doctor or whatever but the highest calling was the ministry. So folks, I am much more important than you. Look at me. And it is great to be so vital to God. It is abhorrent. It is heresy. It’s the Roy Keane syndrome.

If a lawyer or social worker or teacher or shop assistant or secretary or plumber in your Church got a new job this week why should we not bring them to the front of Church and commission them into their service for God? Why do we feel that the people who missionaries come into contact with are more important to Christ than those that are met on the shop floors or schoolrooms or offices of Ballymena, Maghera, Enniskillen or Newry? Is mission to people at home something less? Are the people who reach them not all missionaries?

Of course they are and yet we have neglected them. We do not take their vocations seriously. We diminish their importance in the Kingdom coming and in the Great Commission. We belittle what God has made them. We haven’t spent enough time giving specific training and prayer and support. We have an imbalanced view of mission.

This error in some way lets the missionary at home off the hook too. A missionary goes to Nepal and he is focused on his task, so he is not likely to look around for the trendiest Church with the worship that suits or the teaching that is best. He is not likely to come away saying “I did not get much out of that service today, why do I bother?” He is asking where he can be of most use and how he can be of better use? And so here at home, are we focused on the needs of Churches around us, are we prepared to go where there is a need? Could we be called by God to go to an aging inner city Churches that need help, not from a minister or from an outreach worker but from someone who will come and get behind the Church’s paid staff to help them realise the calling that Christ has given to all who claim to follow him.

If we go to Acts 8 and look at how the Gospel was taken from Jerusalem. Remember God had said that the disciples would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. Well it is a wonderful verse in Acts 8 that tells us that the disciples remained in Jerusalem as the other believers were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria and as they went they preached the word wherever they went. It wasn’t the professionals!!!!!

That Roy Keane syndrome needs dealt with not only within Roy Keane’s life tonight but within mine and the Church’s. I suggested this morning on BBC Radio Ulster that the book of Romans had some wisdom for Keano and it sure does for us: “Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought.” There’s a verse for Roy! It seems that Mr Keane thought he was above the station. Used to winning European Cups he knew more than the manager who after all played for Manchester City and Millwall. He was fitter than the rest of the team and they were just not as focus as him. Maybe as his own career slows down as he moves further into his thirties Keane will need younger, fitter and more important players to show him a patience and grace in the twilight of his Career that he has failed to show.

Paul you see reminds us that we all have a gift. And my goodness Roy Keane is one of the most gifted. But all the gifts are different and everyone needs to play their part. “One man doesn’t make a team” my dad used to say and St. Paul agrees. Leave the bossing to the boss, the administration to the administrator, the goalkeeping the keeper and do your midfield anchor job to the best of your ability. And so the missionary and the minister and the lawyer and the schoolteacher and the artists and the doctor and the civil engineer. For goodness sake even the history graduate has a role!!!! As I look out at all the gifts and vocations that make up the Kingdom I encourage you to take your gift and give it the impetus of your energy and passion. Play your part.

And as you play your part some of you are going to look and say “I am useless, insignificant and no one notices me”. Maybe so, but Paul tells us that that is not the point. Your role allows the people that need to get noticed, to be noticed. All of us are crucial to the whole thing running. Paul interestingly uses the body as his illustration. Bits never noticed and never heard of needed to release Roy Keane’s feet, Billy Graham mouth and The Edges’ fingers. Indeed a few weeks ago we’d never heard of the metatarsal bone. But a small one in David Beckham’s left foot that he can’t even use has prevented his brilliant right foot from kicking a ball. You are vital As I look out at all the gifts and vocations that make up the Kingdom I encourage you to take your gift and give it the impetus of your energy and passion. Play your part.

I am more and more convinced that as a Church we need to begin to train people for every vocation. Ministers 100 years ago probably had a huge influence in the parish. Today they have very little. So the vital co has shifted from the pulpit to the place of work and the place of living.

I hope that some of what happened in Derryvolgie Hall will come back to you as you go. I hope it will shape you. I hope that as we looked at the love, security, significance, the miraculous and hope that God gives us by his grace that you will find a foundation in your soul to have confidence to step out for him. I hope you have learned that God does not want us to be good but to be God’s. I hope you never go safe but holding onto God you will rage at the darkness, kick it til it bleeds daylight. I was given a Mark Eitzel CD by a friend recently and he pointed me to a song called sleep where Eitzel says:

“Altar boys look good in lace
But they are not known for their guts or nature
Goodness is not some pretty picture you paint
Its shaking your fist into the face of danger”

I hope you will go in the name of Christ and shake your fist at the danger. I hope that as you heard about Jubilee 2000 in that special week of events in March and as we informed you about Christian Aid and some of you go to London to campaign in June that you will have got an agitation about the way the world is and that you’ll shake your fist at the idea that 3 men in the west hold more power over wealth than the 60 poorest countries. I hope as half of you go off to build houses in South Africa it will be an experience that will change your agenda to shaking your fist at poverty and injustice and oppression so that God’s Kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven. I hope the Presbyterian Youth For Peace course will cause you to shake your fist at the bigotry and prejudice of our own land.

To finish let me give a Bravehheart rallying call! William Wallace. He shook his fist at the danger. The English were killing Scotland man and woman at a time. The so Called Scottish leaders had cut deals with the oppressive English king to line their own pockets. Wallace wanted freedom for his people. He arrives face painted like Scotland have qualified for the World Cup and tells the frightened rabble of an army to not go home and regret their chance of freedom. Better to die than regret missed opportunity to be free! His mate says to him:

“Fine speech. Now what do we do
Just be yourselves
Where are you going?
I’m going to pick a fight.”

Shaking fist and picking fights. Jesus was all about that. The secret with him and it will be with us is our choice of fights. Roy Keane picked the wrong fight. In house squabbles in World Cup squads, in sessions and committees and families because we are arrogant little selfish know alls like is going to be the wrong fight altogether. We will be attacking ourselves. We need to look across the horizon of this world and see the places where it is not as it is in heaven. There we need to shake fists and pick fights until we bring God’s Kingdom and his will on earth as it is in heaven. As I look out at all the gifts and vocations that make up the Kingdom I encourage you to take your gift and give it the impetus of your energy and passion. Play your part.

Go shake your fist at the world and may you know God’s hand in yours every fight you pick!!!!



Imagine a world where the poor were no longer hungry. Imagine a world where the meek were the Kings and Queens. Imagine a world where the first are not first and that logical, rational and fair approach to affirmation and love is replaced with lunacy and insane injustice where the last are first – a place where none of us have insecurities or inferiorities or any need for anorexia, drug addiction, sexual promiscuity and suicide. Imagine a place where enemies came together and hugged, forgave and loved each other into ridding themselves of their prejudice, bigotry and hate.

God did a lot of imagining. He imagined blue and green and red and yellow. He imagined oceans and beaches and moon’s reflecting off the surface of the bay, lovers walking on that beach with romance keeping them warm inside, in the evening air. God imagined an earth spinning in a Universe and in the end God imagined that he would die for you and me.

Jesus came to live among us imagining and inspiring his followers to imagine. Imagine a son who throws his father’s inheritance away in hedonistic over indulgence coming home and getting a party thrown for him. Imagine a world where the workers who work for the last ten minutes get the same wage as those who worked all day. Imagine where the poor are blessed, where the mourners are comforted, where God’s Kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven. Imagine that.

But do we. It seems that perhaps missing from our modern Church life is a wild imagining. Before God made, he imagined. Before we are going to make an impression we need to imagine. We have become suspicious and fearful of that, particularly in evangelicalism. The scientific ways of modernity have sneaked into our theologically rigid and behavioural legalistic Church. “This is how we do things.”

The first thing we learn about God in Scripture is that he imagined and created. When we read that we are made in his image that is all we know about who we are. We are like God, imaginers and artists. To follow Jesus is to begin to ask what will the Kingdom of God look like if it comes onto the streets of our country as it is in heaven. What would that mean for our fellowships? What would that mean for us in our use of money and time with relation to the poor? What would it mean in my relationship with the other side of our political divide? Could we imagine a hug there? Imagine that as a sign of the Kingdom coming across the world’s television sets.

My daughter is four and already asked to colour inside the lines. Already her imagination is being oppressed and confined. I pray for her, in her life, as well as her art and for you and for me that we would let our imagination go mad, smash the lines to pieces and throw shapes and shimmy and shake this world on its head so that we might bring the provocative agitating yet gloriously beautiful wildness of God to the streets of Ireland. Imagine that!

Imagine no Imagination


“A hollow people,
Bound by a lack
Of imagination
And to much looking back
Without the courage
To give a new thing a chance
Grounded by this ignorance…”

I was convinced for a long time that David Gray’s Birds Without Wings was about the Church and that growing up in Wales he’s been sent off to some Presbyterian Chapel much the same as those where I minister in, in Northern Ireland. The words seemed to fit too easily, too perfectly. If I had the ability I could have written them myself. Now that Gray is a household name his past much more openly exposed, there seems no evidence that Church was the target of his prophetically barbed rhyme throughout his debut album Century’s End. I suppose the encouragement for us within the Church is that we are no worse than the society in general that Gray describes as being birds without wings with the cat coming to pounce. We are just a mirror image…

And yet that in itself is an indictment. The Church was never meant to be a mirror image and should be appalled at such a description. If the Church is the people and Kingdom of God that Jesus came to point to and die in order to release the possibility of then to be a mirror of society is not an acceptable accusation.

There is a word in Gray’s song that might point to clues as to why the Church has lowered her standards, expectations and possibilities; imagination; or a lack of it to be precise. If it is true that without a vision the people perish then it must be said that imagination is the engine room of vision. In a Church where the arts have been all but banished in preference for the confining straight lines scientific of precise definitions, decline can be diagnosed back to here. It is almost like the body being starved of her oxygen. Only in the centre of imagining can a new world be envisaged, can change by fired, can hope be born, can vision not only prevent the perishing but pump the blood around the heart of a world to bring God’s will on earth as it is in heaven.

Imagination begins with God. In the beginning God imagined. Blue, red, green. Blue sky. Red at night. Green valleys underneath that blue sky. Shapes and textures and movement and dance. Mountains and stars and beaches of sand. Gemsbok skipping, birds in flocks throwing shapes over the city bridges at twilight and humans touching lips and hearts. All imagined and then…then created.

The entire relationship between God and humanity has been about firing that imagination, giving a vision of how people could live; a dream of how society could be. The law would put in place a visionary pattern of how a society in a land promised could be better than what slavery had been in Egypt. The prophets continued to dream and rant about it. Isaiah imagined a lion and lamb lying down together! Micah imagined swords turned into ploughshares! Jeremiah imagined a brand new covenant and Ezekiel imagined a new shepherd king who would do justice.

God told his people that “young men would see visions and old men would dream dreams.” It is crucial to the whole deal. Sadly the Phariseeism of modernity sent the life of faith up blind alleys of dreamlessness. Indeed imagination and art became something to be suspicious of and even to despise. Not that it was quenched. It was just reversed. Imagination was turned negative and stories were made up to dismiss anyone who painted even vaguely outside the lines. The devil hijacked imagination and indeed not only took it out of commission so that indeed the people perished but twisted it to make the perishing even more torturous.

Old Testament theologian Walter Breuggemann has been trying to get the imagination back into Christian thinking for sometime. His books Hopeful Imagination and Prophetic Imagination have made Old Testament theology exciting as well as showing so articulately how high on the Biblical agenda imagination sits. He writes, “Jesus’ way of teaching through parables was such a pastoral act of prophetic imagination in which he invited his community of listeners out beyond the visible realities of Roman law and the ways in which Jewish law had grown restrictive in his time.”

Writing about Isaiah he shows how the prophet inspires the people with his poetic utterances to believe that another way is possible. He sparks their imagination to have faith in another day. He says, “The practice of such poetic imagination is the most subversive, redemptive act that a leader of a faith community can undertake in the midst of exiles. This work of poetic alternative in the long run is more crucial than one-on-one pastoral care or the careful implementation of institutional goals. That is because the work of poetic imagination holds the potential of unleashing a community of power and action that finally will not be contained by any imperial restrictions and definitions of reality.”

In American rock magazine Rolling Stones’ end of the year issue in 2001 David Fricke did an interesting and thorough study on John Lennon’s most famous song Imagine. And the themes of the ex Beatle’s song echo Brueggemann’s slant on the poetry of the prophets. Lennon’s classic peace anthem has been used in some pastoral way by America in responding to the shock and mourning of September 11th. Neil Young sang it at the Telethon for the heroes, Tori Amos sang it on the radio and the song like so many others took on a new meaning and responsibility.

Fricke speaks to a few rock stars about what the songs means for them politically speaking. Yoko Ono in some cerebral new age naivism suggests that her husband was not actually talking about action but literally changing the world by imagining, “Imagining, visualising – this is a powerful way of creating the future. It’s very gentle but also extremely basic. There is an incredible power to that.” Bono is a lot less in the clouds and feet on the ground. He is wrapped up in Yoko’s imagining for sure but then points to his favourite thing about Imagine revealing that what sets it apart for him “is the Buddhist core of the song, the idea that imagination precedes action, that you have to imagine something before you make it true.”

As a new year begins in Northern Ireland and again we have violence on the streets. As we see the place where the angels sang of peace on earth and see blood being spilled at will. As we wonder where the world will go post September 11, 2001. As the Church in the west hits the crisis of diminishing interest and impression in the wider world. As I seek to be a better father than I have been until now. What needs lit is the spark of imagining. Imagining a different world. Imagining a Kingdom where the last person becomes the most important, where we treat the tramp on the street like he was Jesus himself, where the poor are blessed, where the mourn rejoice, where there is dignity and love and a place of belonging for all.

It starts in the life of Jesus, the world that his life inspired us to live, that his death and resurrection won us the ability to make it a reality. It will be headed towards only as the engine of imagination fires. It has to be then constantly suggested to us in sermons and in lives and in songs and art like those of the prophets and that of John Lennon. God give us the art of imagination and may that imagination sustained through the arts become masterpieces of living to keep us keeping on in faith and hope and love. Then the birds will open their wings and fly. No fear of cats.


End of Term Sermon at Derryvolgie 2001

There are two mindsets mingled among us, one with another, here tonight. Tangibly we are not of these stories but unseen these stories blow constantly across our lives to influence the way we see our worldview. Now we would claim a Christian worldview. However, that worldview always sits underneath the overriding umbrella of the spirit of the age. Much as we think we are standing in some gap against the spirit of the age as a radical alternative to it, we fool ourselves if we do not think that our Christian worldview is not pulled and pushed and shaped by the bully that is our contemporary culture.

Tonight we all come with a Christian worldview but depending on your age then you’ll have pieced together that view from two quite different cultural perspectives. The more mature among us are seeing Christianity through a “modernity” perspective. Modernity has been shaping our culture and our faith for some three hundred years, some would say since around the time Columbus discovered America. It came out of the days of superstition when suddenly with the advancement of science humans began to really discover what was going on in the Universe. A little bit like biting the fruit of the tree of knowledge, however, humans were suddenly feeling that they were God and that they could now by knowledge and rational thinking understand themselves and the world and progress towards some kind of humanistic holy perfection. Advances in science would eradicate sickness, tragedy and war.

Of course the Church argued vociferously against much of the new air of thinking. God cannot be pushed out and so evolution, which seemed to be the birth of a Godless explanation of the world was bitterly contested. Sin was not going to be eradicated by human progress. Only the cross could achieve the change that humans needed to be able to improve anything. Christians thus became disillusioned with any idea of progress as our sinfulness pretty much left us as Calvin described it totally depraved and we should get used the doom and gloom that that meant.

What in essence happened was that Christians started to stand up against the specifics of modernity but swallowed hook line and sinker the whole of it; the spirit of it. Chewed up evolution but swallowed to deep in our hearts the scientific lenses that created it. Thus theology threw out, like science was doing, all the unexplainable, all the irrational, all the mysterious. Unless we could explain it we couldn’t believe it. For Christianity that was a huge loss. Much more dangerous to the central tenets of our faith than evolution ever was or will be. Theology became like science, water tight with neat and seamless conclusions. God lost his mystery and any sense that he might surprise us. We had Him boxed. Fully explained. We had the whole wardrobe described. The hem of his garment was far from enough in this new world of words being enough. Doctrine was systematic. Sussed. Most of us over 40 and certainly over 45 have lived under such a think-track going on around us as we formulate our ideas of life and God.

The under 40s and the younger that you are the more so, have been pulled and pushed and shaped by another worldview entirely. By the 1960s there was more than a little disillusionment with modernity. The population of what has been described as Generation X was becoming increasingly aware of the failures of modernity. The promised progress of decades and even centuries had not only failed to fulfil but had only enabled us through science and knowledge to drop atomic bombs in Japanese cities and kill one another better, leave two thirds of the world in stark deprivation and holes all around the ozone layer that was leading us to all kinds of environmental apocalyptic catastrophe.

So the younger generation rebelled and became nihilistic – there ain’t no future; cynical - there was a more than dubious past; hedonistic – eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die. With this disillusionment being complimented by the inroads made by media over kill in television, radio, music and cinema this generation believe different things and even correlate ideas in a whole different way. In his book Amusing Ourselves To Death Neil Postman concludes that those who learn and acquire information by words in linear form use a different part of their brain than those who imbibe most of its knowledge through moving pictures and images. The former are using the objective side of their brain and the latter the subjective.

That changes a lot of stuff and it is the work of the Church in this third millennium to catch the dilemma and see how to react. It effects the sharing of truth whether in teaching or evangelism and it effects our pastoral care. I guess I have somehow been more aware of such things this year than before and am trying to make some sense of the issues it raises.

The first problem to deal with is which is right or wrong. There has been a lot of sensational Christian books and sermons dealing with the great threat of postmodernity. I would not want to deny that we need a careful and biblical critique of postmodernity but what I have read and heard and fear is that we are inspecting this new worldview through the microscopic lenses of modernity without realising that it too is a faulty perspective that needs critique. We have of course been intermarried with this pagan world view of modernity for so long that it is become a loved part of the family and we need to see it for what it is. The conclusion we seek is not which is or is not Christian but what aspects of both are of benefit to our thinking of faith and which aspects are a danger and a peril to Biblical living.

Postmodernity as we have already said heads down an anything goes existentialist highway that ends up a few miles down it as a vague you cannot believe just anything so much a s you actually must believe everything. Everything that is accept something specific. That flies in the face of Christianity, which has central tenets of truth. We also stand against the hopelessness of the future and indeed will not be getting rid of the past because we who believe in Jesus believe that we are part of a story that started way back at the beginning of time and that God somehow relates to the unfolding. By faith we climb on this story that has a past and gives us a more than hopeful future. And one of the roles we need to bring into this postmodern world is the telling of this story that the disillusioned might jump onto a carriage of the salvation train with us.

What needs to be spelled out, and I am not sure is being, is the benefits that post modernity brings to Christian understanding. Modernity in its obsession with rational, explainable watertight conclusions pushed mystery to the very edges. This would especially be true of Reformed Protestantism which was born and bred within the youthful enthusiasm of modernity. So God is sussed and we have nothing new to learn. We can even judge people and condemn them because they are saying something outside of the lines and our lines have hemmed in the truth. Postmodernity give us the opportunity to celebrate what we do not know. We can be more relaxed in our doubt and confusion because we can at last realise that the opposite of faith is not doubt but knowledge and certainty.

This allows us to have a God who is beyond our small mind and finite thinking and descriptions of Him. In the Bible no one can quite describe him and we use all kinds of phrases like “it was as if”, “it was like”. God can come out of our systematic theology box and be omnipotent again.

Pastorally this helps us to deal with tragedy. In the past where you had to somehow play hermeneutical gymnastics with Scripture or ignore the sad events of life we can now sit in the whirlpool of life’s traumatic events and not have to strive for some rational solution. Where that mystery might not be a whole lot of comfort at least it releases us from the added discomfort of needing theological resolutions.

If this generation has switchfooted on the surfboard of acquiring information then we need to also realise that the old ways are not going to work in sharing Christ. Those of us who came to an understanding of faith by proclamation and objective words need to see that this generation will not be satisfied with words but will need to experience the truth. Hence I spend a lot of my year convincing students that God loves them. It is not that they haven’t heard it or even taken hold of it in some objective sermon. It is that the body Christ, that is you and me in this Church, have not helped them experience it in the relationships that they are involved in. And you can see another advantage of postmodernity right there but it is a very unnerving bothersome advantage; words are no longer enough, it has to be lived.

It also means that living it is where it is at. That in itself sets free those among us who are not so articulate with words. St. Francis of Assisi told his disciples to go and share the Gospel and if they needed to use words. Postmodernism was going down long before modernity hit us so hard. We are back there again. I sat with a man who was without trying to seeing his home being used as a refuge for his sons’ friends. All their problems came to my friend and his wife. Indeed many of them slept in their home. They were being Christ to these teenage waifs and strays and casualties of the postmodern deception that if it feels good do it and don’t care the consequences. My friend was distressed that he had not told them of Christ. His modernity mindset had made him think that he hadn’t communicated God’s love to them. Of course he had used the very vocabulary that they know best. Postmodernity makes truer than it has ever been true the idea that actions speak louder than words.

In some kind of conclusion, and postmodernity gives me permission to allow conclusions to hang, I think it is important for us to delve deep into both the worldviewsd that have crossroadsed in our time and find what we need to hold on to and write exclamations beside and what we need to jettison out of the definitions of a faith that lives outside of mindsets.


Be God's

How do you think the devil might introduce himself? It seems to me he wouldn’t say, "Hi ya, I’m murder, fancy coming out to play!" or "Hello, my name is lust, fancy a night on the town" or "‘Bout ye Big lad my name is greed, bigotry and prejudice why don’t you come and join me." It all seems far too obvious. The devil has always been known as the distracting deceiver who creeps up unannounced and is prowling like a lion waiting to devour. He’s hardly going to make it easy for us.

So I reckon the devil is deceiving us in names and words and standards and seemingly good things. Maybe it is the devil that has us so caught up in Christian meetings that we never have the time to do anything else. Maybe it is the devil who plans most of our Christian missions. Think about it. We take our most creative, passionate people and put them on committees to plan an event. We spend sometimes years planning it, pour in tens of thousands of pounds and then for a week we invite all the people that we have not had time to build relationships with to a meeting. And nobody comes. The time could have been spent befriending neighbours and building relationships. Making the word flesh the way God decided was best to reach the world. As I have said before missions may be just a public confession of our failure to evangelise. They may be even more demonically inspired than that.

The devil may also be inspiring us to be good. Could not doing anything bad be a tactic of he who we see as everything bad. Could being good be a clever distraction. In his book The Grave Digger File, a more academic and modern version of CS Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, Os Guinness opens us up to the devil’s 10-10-80 theory of paralysing the Church. Basically, if the devil can cause 10% of the Church to change sides and join his good self, make 80% pretty nice and good living but little else, then he can deal with the effects of the 10% who are passionately trying to follow Jesus.

In Northern Ireland Christians are often described as good living because they refrain from drinking, smoking and swearing. Those may be very commendable behavioural habits. But that is all that they are. When they become the priority in Christian definition they are reeked with the sulphurous aromas of hell itself. Dress code too. I remember trying to get a missionary’s brother to Church. He couldn’t come because he didn’t have a suit. He finally went when he ended up in gaol. Who was keeping him from the grace of God. Was it angels dressed as the bouncers of heaven making sure that you wear a shirt and tie before the blood of the most precious Lamb is available to you or was it a cunning strategy of evil dressed up nicely in that most unbiblical word – respectable?

Recently I was speaking to students at Queen’s University Belfast, many of whom had just arrived in this new world of freedom and undoubted temptation. How were they going to deal with what is in a sense their very first foray into the world "grown up"? Would they keep the faith of their home family or Church? For many of them the gaining of their own faith was not so much at the forefront of their minds as the fear of losing the one they had been handed down. There is without doubt a huge fear of the real world among those nurtured in the shelters and ghettos of their Churches. That in itself may be a clever tactic of the devil, making sure that we are not equipped for the very world we should be living in. Anyhow I was pleading with these fresher students to make sure that they didn’t settle for being good.

I reckon that the devil would settle very delightfully in their being good. If they can leave with a degree in three years time and never have entered a bar or had a drink or got into the wrong company then the students feel that they haven’t compromised their faith but alas the devil is cheering with glee as most of the University remains without the influence of the light of the world and the salt of the earth. They have been good but played the match the very way that the devil had hoped. They would be like the servant who hid his talent in the ground so that there would be no risk or danger of it being tainted but when he returned it to the master untainted he was told of his wickedness. To just be good at University is to be living in the same kind of wickedness.

When I was leaving one of my too brief times with Rich Mullins I got him to sign a tape for one of the kids I was going o stay with next. When Rich signed it "Be God’s" I thought it was interesting but very little else. Having recently read James Bryan Smith’s intriguing biography of Rich, An Arrow Pointing To Heaven, the penny finally dropped. Smith writes, "Be God’s" That was his signature statement. Many of us want to be good, and Rich believed that being good was a noble pursuit. But the highest pursuit was not to be good but to be God’s. The best thing any of us can be is fully devoted to the God who loves us with a passionate, reckless, furious love".

So my hope as I was speaking to Queen’s University students and for myself and for all of those who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ is not that we would be good. But that we would be God’s. I have come to believe that there is a mighty huge difference. The Pharisees, like the servant who hid his talent in the parable, were very good indeed but they were constantly under the critical eye and wrath of Jesus who was much more interested in big confused fishermen who were cutting off people’s ears and who had a desire to be God’s.

If only Jesus had said to Peter "Be good, big lad". He didn’t. He said, "follow me". It was like saying "be God’s". And that changed everything. Paul says it again in Ephesians chapter 5, "Be imitators of God". The devil who is a conster, a trickster and a sham would have us fall way short of such living. You can be living an incredibly good life, indeed good enough to be voted an elder or a deacon or a leader in whatever organisation you are in. You can be so good that your Christian friends look up to you. But you might not be being God’s. You can maybe even be walking hand in hand with the devil in your goodness. Your goodness might be just a playing it safe and safety is another word designed in the fiery pits rather than in heaven’s inspired word processor.

Safety you see keeps us from the cauldron of what it is to be imitators of God or followers of Jesus Christ. It says "stay in the trenches" rather than "go out over the top and meet the enemy eyeball to eyeball in the thick of the battle". It says, "Protect what you have," instead of "Go and win the world."

An interesting incident recently showed me the insidious nature of such maladjusted thinking. Students who we were unable to take in Derryvolgie Hall, where I work, were trying to find alternative accommodation. Many parents were phoning me looking for a safe little Christian room for their children. The University accommodation office had many double rooms but no one wanted them. Especially Christians. I told a mother how a friend had actually found faith by sharing a room with a Christian and she informed me that that indeed was her story. I was dumbfounded therefore to try and understand why she was not prepared to expose someone to her son’s faith. If Christians were trying to be God’s instead of just being good then they would be jumping at the chance to share Jesus with room mates for a year. What an opportunity! They will probably try to organise events to reach the very people they refused to live with. Who is happy? God or the devil?

So let us throw off the demonic distractions of good and walk right into the eye of the storm. Let us get beyond the no smoking, no drinking no swearing respectable living and begin to live the upside down and sometimes crazy lifestyle that is true discipleship. Let us overturn and smash to pieces the modern idols of materialism and cultural fashion and cool. Let us follow Christ and be more interested in heavenly riches than the big house at the right address and the accessory car that demonically masquerades as spiritual blessing. Let us question the self indulgent "bless me, bless me" modern Church culture and begin to see what it is to take up the cross and follow Christ. Let us look for the limp that Jacob carried as a sign of blessing. Let us be more interested in people than principles or doctrines. Let us be so interested in others that we will lay down our lives for them. Let us be prepared to lose reputations or our very lives for the souls of others rather than banishing them for being a little skew whiff with an item or two of theological opinion.

I guess in Northern Ireland the eye of that storm is in how we deal with our traditional enemies at a time when the future has a chance to be better than the past. Again we can get distracted. It doesn’t seem good to be reaching out to those who have perpetrated a bloody violence that has left many homes in a depth of pain and hurt that is incomprehensible. It would seem to be principled to stand for some kind of good justice. I suggest that the devil will distract us in such ways. It seems so sensible. It may well be a good way to deal with the unbelievable dilemma that our peculiar little history has left us in. But it might not be God’s way. As the world watched the most Christian country on earth deal with relational difficulties we have a unique opportunity to show the reality of what loving your enemy means. How the cross and resurrection of Christ makes the impossible reality. But we get distracted by the devils distractions – principles before people.

And so we are left with that heresy conjured in the killer lie department of hell – do not forgive until they repent. If repentance is a condition of God’s grace, the Bible never makes it a condition of the restoration of human relationships. If you are worshipping and somebody has something against you, Jesus said, you are the one to reach out. Not after they repent. The responsibility is on you. In Kuke chapter 6, when Jesus tells us to love our enemies he doesn’t give us the cop out of their repentance. Indeed he asks what kind of wonderment there would be if you love those who love you. No the miracle of the Christian faith is in doing the unnatural. Then of course when Jesus himself was hanging on the cross and asked that God would forgive those who put him there he did not ask for decommissioning of wood or nails or swords. No. The idea of preconditions for our loving others is not a Biblical concept whatever. It’s another demonic sacrilege.

Into the eye of the storm. That is where we should be. Jesus was never found in the safe environments of Church ghettos. He was there with the lepers, the prostitutes, the tax collectors. He was there mingling with the sinners. There in the very riskiest places on earth. Indeed on the night he was betrayed he walked right into the eye of the storm. He looked down the next number of hours and realised he was going to take the devil on right there on the devil’s very own pitch. He prayed, he sweated drops of blood, he reasoned with God to find another way. He knew it was daft and stupid and suicidal. He saw the hammer coming down long before he got to Calvary. He knew he was getting up to walk to his death. A very dangerous place to be. Yet he did not say, "Right lads let us get out of here to some safe place." He said, "Not my will but yours be done".

How? How could Jesus walk into the boiling cauldrons of hell and take on evil itself. Trust. He trusted God. He trusted that if God was going to take him in to this place of death, that God had the power to bring him back to life. He believed that God could do the impossible. He trusted himself into God’s hands.

Most of us do not trust God and therefore set up good behavioural codes to keep us safe. To be God’s is to rip up those codes and step out in trust. To go wherever light needs to be shining. To go to wherever needs the savour of salt. To go with the good news into the heart of badness.

So are we being God’s or just being good: -
Do they hate me in hell
Do they scream at my name
Or do they weep in heaven
With cringing shame


End of Term Sermon at Derryvolgie 2000

Maybe 250 Derryvolgie kids have passed through our Hall in these past 6 years and many more that don’t come under my definition of Volgie kids.

Some of you I know well and some I don’t. Some of you know me and some of you don’t. We feel we’ve let each other down and I guess when I don’t know you I REAP WHAT I’VE SOWN. I’ve let other things block out our relationship.

Maybe you too leave with bland and insipid memories. Some of that may be our fault in planning programmes and building community. We apologise. But some of it may be you REAPING WHAT YOU SOWED too

I see you coming in and I watch you leave. I watch you through maybe the most significant part of your development into adulthood as you move into the real world. If I watched invisible you’d still be different leaving than arriving but I like to think that there is something about the place that helps shape and mould you into the person who heads out towards career and marriage and life.

Most times I smile as you leave. I say “who’d have believed that you’d become who you are as you go.”

Some times I cry inside at my failure or your seeming lack of interest to try to benefit from what we’ve tried to do.

Of course I realise too that who I look at tonight is not you. It’s you at this part of your journey and the good become bad, the bad could become good and the ugly could be the most beautiful being in heaven. I am very different than I was at 21. I ran 70 miles a week then and had then energy of peter Scullion and the build of Chris Guiney. I REAPED WHAT I SOWED. But we change and you will too

Many of you I have no doubts about. I am thrilled with the anticipation of meeting you in 20 years and seeing what you have done somewhere, anywhere, wherever to bring something of God’s kingdom and His will on earth as it is heaven.

Some of you I worry about. Where will you end up? What will become of you? When will you catch yourself on?!!!!!!!

We’ve prayed for everyone of you again this year, flat by flat, we’ve been concerned, we’ve been thrilled, we’ve been hurt and disappointed – as you have been with us.

And as you leave what do you say. Goodness. One last chance.

And tonight I feel fearful. Like a parent watching his children leave home. I let go. I’m petrified.

This week I read in Hanif Kureishi’s Midnight All Day these words: “We discuss the emptying out; the fear of living; the creation of wasteland; the denigration of value and meaning. I tell him melancholy was part of my interior scene and that I considered it to be the way the world was until I stood against it. I announce “People make themselves sick when they aren’t leading the lives they should be leading.”


I’m worried you’ll make yourselves sick.


The life you should be leading. – not just the things you are doing that you shouldn’t be doing. Though folks can I say that following the hedonistic recklessness of alcohol abuse, drug experimentation or sexual promiscuity is just going to make you sick – YOU REAP WHAT YOU SOW

I think the life that you should be living is much more the positive than the negative. Finding who you are, what you have been gifted to do, exploring God’s world in God’s way and living life in all it’s fullness – YOU REAP WHAT YOU SOW

I believe that that life is rooted and founded and embedded in the grace of God. Living your life in the warm embrace of God’s unconditional love will make you strong and courageous for anything.

When the wasteland is pushing you into a corner to experiment in promiscuous sex or alcohol abuse or drugs you will probably only be able to stand against it if you know you are loved by God and therefore can sacrifice the love that those things would bring with your peers

When the wasteland is squeezing you into a money grabbing, materialistic, ladder climber and you are on a treadmill that takes you away from family, church and God with the lie of security and wealth’s goodness you will probably only be able to stand against it if you know you are loved by God and therefore can sacrifice the love that those things would bring with your peers

When the wasteland is telling you to be rational and scientific and more tolerant of whatever anybody believes about everything and you are being tangled in the web of new age, anything goes, existentialist insipidness you will probably only be able to stand against it if you know you are loved by God and therefore can sacrifice the love that those things would bring with your peers

When the wasteland is telling you to conform to the pattern of the church and dress this way and that and keep this cultural or political norm or this middleclass behavioural pattern as if it is somehow Biblical and you cannot find it in the Bible indeed you find suggestions that Jesus was against such things you will probably only be able to stand against it if you know you are loved by God and therefore can sacrifice the love that those things would bring with your peers

I pray that God’s love will be SOWN deep within you YOU WILL REAP A PLACE of love, security, significance and hope

But I pray that that warm place of eternal love is not a place that you will languish and go to sleep

I pray you’ll remember how we’ve tried to look at discipleship

Not a hand at a rally or a prayer prayed at beach missions or adherence to some creed or confession But a daily following the radical one The revolutionary who best stood against the wasteland

I pray you’ll carry that cross, take it up daily and follow him

The cross of loving your enemies in a place where that is frowned on as betrayal

The cross of being meek in a world where that is seen as madness

The cross of storing up treasure in heaven rather than here on earth

The cross of seeing the last in society as first and vica versa

The cross of being a servant to others

The cross of feeding the hungry, visiting the imprisoned, welcoming in the stranger

The cross of living in the understanding that God sees every second of your day and smiles or weeps depending on what he sees.

Because he loves you unconditionally does not stop him bring hurt deep down inside by our actions

So as you go I tell you what Paul told the Church in Galatia “YOU REAP WHAT YOU SOW”

I can remember not so many years ago some young people, not Derryvolgie students, sitting in my front room with the their heads and indeed their hearts in their hands. They were scratching their souls in dismay as the news had just been broken to them that one of their friends had hanged himself in a prison cell. He’d been one of them in Church and youth group. He’d had a good home but had just met a very tragic end. One of those lifted his head and said to me, “I wish I could go back to that moment when he made that one decision that led to this. It was all just a domino effect”. I’d never heard a better definition of wehat sin is. It’s not primarily a theological consequence of our actions but a warning of wrong decisions that effect our very breathing, heart pumping lives. Their friend had sadly REAPED WHAT HE HAD SOWN. For a moment of pleasure the consequences were fatal.

And as I throw out these seeds the way we did these last years

I wonder where it’ll fall

On the path where even as I speak you are not getting it or interested in living in his love or following or both

In the rocks where tonight you say yeh and say all the right words and sing with a great degree of vigour and enthusiasm but it’s all on the surface no depth

The thorns – it’s rooted, it’s growing but money and diaries and the wasteland of cultures ideas of fashion, wealth and hedonism will strangle it

Tonight I pray for good

Can I ask you to plough it, weed it, tend it

“People make themselves sick when they aren’t leading the lives they should be leading.”


I pray for your sowing…