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May 2014


Fitzroy Front

Tomorrow morning (11am) in Fitzroy we will look at what Jesus said would be inevitable; the we would be hated for following Jesus! That John 15 passage is even more intriguing in a week like the one we have lived through in N. Ireland. We will be therefore looking at what it was that Jesus knew we would be hated for and the hatred that we might get from there world that has actually nothing to do with Christ! Wrapped around worship tastefully led by Neil Sedgewick we will also gather to remember that hatred from the world caused Jesus death; a grace giving of himself for every race and creed!

In the evening (7pm) we will ask what lessons we can learn from recent events. How do we use Social Networks, badly and well; how do we believe with conviction and carry it gently; and how do we move on from this bad PR for Jesus and dangerous mood in our community?!

GOD STOPS BELIEVING IN HIMSELF TOO - Surmising A Frustrating Few Days For A Minister

Andy T

“And maybe if God is judging on the last day

He'll put all the poor and faithless in one queue

And give them a look that says, "You know it's ok,

I nearly stopped believing in me too!”

Andy Thornton’s brilliant song Rage In The Darkness has been rattling around my head all day. Written after his first singing trip to Northern Ireland almost 25 years ago it has sadly been too contemporary today. As a Church leader and First minister get into hot water about their comments on Muslims the worst part of all for me is that so many people will be further turned off the Jesus I know and follow. I believe CS Lewis said something like “people don’t reject Christ; they reject the Christ they have been given”. Others have suggested that it is God’s PR that needs changing!

Today I was more frustrated and saddened than angry. I have got over my anger. Today I wanted to run away from being a Church minister, embarrassed at what has been said in Jesus name. Yet, it was more than the embarrassment. It has all been so far removed from the Jesus I see in the Gospels that I was actually afraid that I was on a loser to ever repair the damage being done around me. I wanted to get into that queue of the faithless. As I went to line up I realised that Andy was right. God understands and feels the same way as me. As God’s name is misrepresented all across the world and as his children in countries across the world are put in real danger because of the venom of hatred shared in his name, God must be saddened too.

I am certainly depressed about it all but I of course won’t run because I believe in this Jesus, that living in the radical loving way he did is the solution not the cause of this distress and because I have found no better example of how to live and love neighbour and enemy; no better way to change the world. And today I know our world really needs changed.

Note: there is nowhere in this blog I called myself a Christian. If what we have heard this week is what a Christian is... then a follower of Jesus I am more happy with!



We have lost the meaning of the word enough. We live in a world where actually it is hard to find any driving forces in our society that acknowledge the value of enough. Everyone who is getting more wants even more and everyone selling them more wants to sell even more. Enough is almost a bad word in the unrestrained consumerist culture of our western world. The problem of course is that when we reach our level of enough, and pass it with the regularity and distance that we do, then the balances of world shalom are so tilted that other human beings have to live in abject poverty because of our dissatisfaction with enough.

The Bible makes a couple of strong pointers to God’s ideal of enough. In the wilderness when God supplied the Children Of Israel with food, they were sent out to collect enough for one day and were not allowed to gather anymore than was enough for that one day. In the New Testament Jesus teaches us to pray in The Lord’s Prayer that we would have daily bread in the same kind of way; no more, no less, just enough!

In a sermon, some time ago in Fitzroy, I was comparing and contrasting Jesus encounters with the Rich Young Ruler and Blind Bartimaeus and how difficult the rich find it to follow Jesus. I was also suggesting that this is perhaps why Jesus said that the poor were blessed though that is not an excuse to stop campaigning for the eradication of poverty. 

Before I preached one of my elders, Old Testament lecturer and commentator Desi Alexander, used Proverbs 30 v 7-9 in his prayer of intercession. I was struck in a whole new way by those verses in the context of my sermon on Mark 10 and these two very different encounters with Jesus. They became definitive verses on our modern dilemma of poverty and wealth –

 7 "Two things I ask of you, O LORD;
   do not refuse me before I die:

 8 Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
   give me neither poverty nor riches,
   but give me only my daily bread.

 9 Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
   and say, 'Who is the LORD ?'
   Or I may become poor and steal,
   and so dishonor the name of my God.

The book of Proverbs is indeed wisdom and here is prophetic wisdom for this generation. From this Old Testament world of Proverbs that could never have imagined the extent of wealth that we enjoy in the twenty first century the understanding of the temptations of poverty and wealth are spot on. I have lived at both sides of the balance. In 2005 I lived for a few months on the west side of Vancouver and witnessed a class of community who had so much wealth that they really had no need for God anymore; in fact God would have been a real hindrance to the lavish lifestyle they enjoyed. It was actually a poverty of soul caused by riches. I have on the other hand spent a lot of time in the township communities on South Africa’s Western Cape. In these places I was a witness to an environment of poverty that caused crime to be rife not because those folk were any less human than my friends in West Van but because the tragic consequences of their wretched poverty drove them to it.

The prayer in Proverbs to have neither poverty nor wealth suggests that we need to come to terms with the word enough and live our lives so that everyone has enough. Settling for the blessing of enough will the key to shalom and God’s Kingdom coming to earth as it is in heaven!


Gentle Strength


(I used this prayer at the end of a quiet service awhile back. This has been a response to many times in Northern Ireland politics and Church life when faith was not carried into the public square at all gently. When the balance of courage and gentleness gets out of kilter, in how we share God's grace with the world, we can cause so much damage to the amazing good news of Jesus. It is why Jesus spoke pof being wise as serpents and gentle as doves!)

God, give us a confidence in you

But let grace keep us from arrogance

God, give us a strength of conviction

But let us share it humbly

God may we believe courageously

But help us carry it gently

Lord, may we go forward with vision

But help us to be careful that we do not abuse your grace to feed our own self righteousness

But use your grace to feed the world’s deepest needs.



Let's Be Still

“The world's just spinning

A little too fast

If things don't slow down soon we might not last.

The world's not forgiving

Of everyone's fears.

The days turn into months the months turn into years.

So just for a moment, let's be still


Just for a moment let's be still.

Just for a moment let's be still.

Just for a moment let's be still.

Just for a moment let's be still.”

I have become quite entranced by The Head and The Heart since seeing them at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan back in April. This song above all struck a chord. I even bought a t-shirt with Let’s Be Still written across it. It is the title track of their second album and for me it is a challenge to both the cultural and the personal.

We live in a world that is literally spinning at a speed that seems out of control. To keep up with the ability to do ten things at once with every product, invention and belief changing by the minute is a stress and strain. That is just ordinary existence. The opportunities to step off and be still are fewer and fewer. When we do we are not sure how to deal with a world that is no longer flashing bright and relentlessly loud! 

Into the relentlessness is a lack of forgiveness and a burden of fear weighing down everyone’s soul. We have so many fears that it is hard to know where to start cataloguing them. A graceless world means constant criticism and judgement coming at us. How good it would be to be still for a moment and somehow avoid the expectations and demands of others. Oh to switch off from the plethora of voices seeking our attention and allegiances. 

The Head and The Heart are echoing advice that God gave to humanity in Psalm 46. There, in the midst of a world at war and everything around them in turmoil God says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” There is that advice to be still again. In the midst of whatever is raging around you take time out. That might be a time each day to find some solitude to reflect or rest. It might be the time each year to get away and jettison your position, strains and demands to refresh the soul. 

Where The Head and The Heart tell us that the world is a place of fear and lack of forgiveness, The Psalmist almost answers that dilemma by suggesting we find a place under the eye of God. To be still in the presence of a God who is forgiving and tells us constantly not to be afraid is powerfully transformative. To find our belonging and purpose here rather than in a mad out of control world can change everything…

So… Let’s be still… 


Muslim Labels

It was a moment that frightened and deeply effected me. I was eleven years old. We were on holidays in the south of England. We were in Saltash, near Plymouth, and looking for a Bed & Breakfast for the night. We had noticed someone walking past our car with a rather cautious look. My father went up a few steps to ask if there were vacancies in the B & B and before he got back to the car the police had arrived. They questioned who we were, where we were from and what we were doing? Our car had been reported. It had Northern Ireland number plates and therefore we might be bombers. To be fair the police were friendly and eventually found us a B & B but for evermore I realised that on mainland Britain I was labelled Irish and the logical conclusion was therefore that I was a terrorist and dangerous.


When I first heard Paul Brady’s Nothing But The Same Old Story it rang true. 

“Living under suspicion

Putting up with the hatred and fear in their eyes

You can see that you're nothing but a murderer

In their eyes, we're nothing but a bunch of murderers”

Of course in the collective narrative where I am from, that collective is divided and I would not be perceived to be technically in the Irish collective that Brady is singing about. Yet, how those outside Northern Ireland perceive us is very different and we had Irish plates therefore were Irish and therefore republican or loyalist terrorists; “In their eyes, we're nothing but a bunch of murderers”.

After 9/11 I found myself lumping races and religions all together and looking suspiciously at every middle eastern person on any flight I happened to be on. Suddenly in my eyes… “they were nothing but a bunch of murderers.” Thankfully my own story shook me back to reality. It seems that humans have a tendency to caricature, stereotype and lump generalised prejudices on people we don’t define as being in our collective. It is prone to making serious misjudgements on who people are, what they believe and how they might act. 

In the recent first official visit of the President of Ireland to the United Kingdom there was a very special concert held at the Royal Albert Hall where Irish musicians and poets performed for the President. When Paul Brady sang Nothing But The Same Old Story I found it emotional. It was a redemptive moment where the song was made redundant apart from the lesson that its memory throws at us. 

If any country should know better than to tar entire races and religions with the brush of a few fanatics then it is us! Paul Brady’s song resonates in my soul and challenges me as to how to live towards others. Let’s not have any more “same old stories”.


  Love Your Muslim Neighbour

The last few weeks have not been good in Northern Ireland for Jesus PR. First Mervyn Gibson, a man I know and like, suggests he would be happier if a wall in West Belfast painted in tribute to Gerry Adams was a Memorial wall and now Pastor James McConnell is calling all Muslims dangerous and Satanic. I have to say I find none of these statements to have any relationship with the Jesus of the Biblical Gospel accounts. 

Jesus lived and ministered in a very divided world. There were the Samaritans. The Jews saw the Samaritans as a perverted off shoot of Judaism. As far as the Jews were concerned they had compromised themselves politically and religiously. They were the enemy across the border and the Jews would take a long walk around the borders of Samaria if they were travelling back to galilee from Jerusalem in order to avoid these heretics. It could easily be defined as hatred! Then there were the Roman soldiers. They were an occupying force, violently nailing Jews to crosses; no love lost there!

Jesus was constantly breaking down the barriers of his day. Even among his fellow Jews he was reaching out across the exclusion lines set up by the religious leaders. He befriended lepers, tax collectors and prostitutes, the pariahs in his own community. Then he went further and went through Samaria in one of his journeys home. He not only connected with a Samaritan but a woman and asked to drink from her cup. This was Jesus smashing down of the walls that his culture had erected in their prejudice, sectarianism and racial hatred. Another time he not only healed the servant of a Roman Centurion but had the audacity to declare he had never seen such faith in all of Israel! This is a revolutionary way to deal with “the other”. Such ways get you nailed to crosses. In the end, it did!

You see when Jesus says, as recorded in Luke chapter 6, “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” he is spelling out how to live if you want to follow him. To follow Jesus is what makes us Christians and following him means dealing with ‘the others” of our world how he dealt with “the others” of his. That was in love and blessing and prayer. Jesus knew that such a radical approach to ‘the other” would change the world, bring that shalom idea of the Old Testament and the Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven of the Lord’s Prayer. This is what makes Christianity a radical social transformational force. It is where Jesus cross and resurrection gets proven in the world we live in. It is where the central Christian theology of grace comes alive.

As a Christian I find it impossible to in any way connect the recent comments of Mervyn and Pastor McConnell with this spirit of Jesus so prevalently witnessed to in the Gospel accounts. To Gerry Adams and the Muslims of Belfast can I tell you that Jesus calls me to love you as you are, in the same way that Jesus loved me as I was. He demands that I give up my life for your well being. Please God, send your Spirit’s courage and fill me with the grace of Jesus that I might follow Jesus onto my streets.

here is a UTube video that two of my Fitzroy elders made after the Mervyn Gibson statement...


My Vote

There has been a lot of chat in the Northern Irish press on this election week about whether the Church should advise her flock on how to vote and whether Christian politicians should bring their beliefs into their political decision making. 

I have a strong beliefs that a pastor has a role to resource his or her flock to consider how to vote. I would never tell my congregation how to vote but we did an event on Sunday night to look at what ways you might decide how to bring your following of Jesus into your decision making. 

I find it disappointing when a politician tells Christian politicians to leave their Bibles at the door. It shows an ignorance of what the Bible is. To be a Christian means to have your beliefs shaped by the Bible. It is therefore impossible to leave it at the door. It would be like cutting out your very core and entering the chambers without brain or heart or soul. It is an utterly ludicrous thing to suggest such a setting down. It also suggest that everyone else’s beliefs are somehow neutral. The same politician did not suggest people left their atheist beliefs, humanist beliefs, capitalist beliefs or beliefs shaped by being brought up in another culture at the door. These are the things that shape decisions making and democracy is a mix of those beliefs making decisions together. No belief is less neutral than any other, religious or not!

Now, that does not mean I am impressed by how the Bible is used in politics. There has been an appalling abuse of the Bible and interpretations of the Bible that are lazy, shallow and narrow in focus. I think it is stupid to think that Christians can leave their Bibles at the door but sadly I can understand the reasons someone might want them to.

For me the thing that has struck me as I head to the polling station tomorrow, utterly depressed at the options Northern Irish people have to vote for, is that I should be careful to be Biblical about how to prioritise my criteria for deciding. There is a tendency in us all to be thoroughly Biblical in defending our own Biblical obsessions. Let us get Biblical about what God’s priorities would be. What does God talk most about in the Scriptures and who in their pamphlets get somewhere close to dealing with those things? So I am seeking to be Biblical about what God’s obsessions are, not just Biblical about what my own obsessions are.


Love Thy Neighbour

(This was the Thought For The Day I offered Radio Ulster for this morning. Always trying to be topical I felt that this week I needed to tackle the elections. I was asked to change it. Is it not helpful for the "religious" community to contribute thoughtful advice to such a major issue.? I feel that the thought below is neutral but thoughtfully helpful. See what you think...)

When I first visited South Africa in late 1993 it was particularly fascinating to watch people signing up to vote for the first time. The excitement was palpable. Here were people who had had no right to vote being given the opportunity for the first time. Goodness but they realised the privilege. So many people were eager to get registered that it was an administrative nightmare. 

I often remember this on weeks like this. Here we are with elections on Thursday and yet are we as passionate and excited as those South Africans? Or is there some apathy around?

Of course with the privilege comes the responsibility. It is one thing to want to vote and another dilemma altogether to find someone to vote for. Perhaps indeed the same apathy that causes some not to vote can be found in the lack of thought in the choices that those who enter the voting booth use to decide.

Let me throw in a revolutionary idea as you look forward to using your privilege on Thursday. Love your neighbour as yourself as you write down the numbers 1 to whatever in the ballot sheet. When Jesus said Love Your neighbour it was not some nice sentimental thought about carrying someone’s groceries. Jesus was out for radical change in how we treat one another. So let us use such a thought in how we vote. Don’t vote with your own selfish desires in mind. Vote so that your vote declares your love for neighbour. Indeed when Jesus told the Good Samaritan story to explain who your neighbour is, the neighbour was the guy from the other religion, the other political group, the guy that you would more likely be conditioned to hate than love.

So… don’t vote for the candidate who will deliver the best city or Europe for you. Check those pamphlets again… Which candidate will do best for the common good… for the entire city… for the entire European Community… and vote with the thrill of privilege, the joy of freedom, the hope of a better Europe and Belfast.


Fitzroy Front

Tomorrow morning (11am) in Fitzroy is a family service and our Christian Aid Sunday. We will be having a Max Lucado Wemmick's story where we will be thinking about the flaw of thinking that having things makes us happy. Our youth will be sharing favourite Bible verses as will I. Mine will suggest a scret to living that 10:10 Life In all Its Fulness that is the Fitzroy mantra!Afterwards a Bread, cheese and soup lunch for Christian Aid.

In the evening (7pm) we have an elcetion special. We will be listening to the expertise of Brett Lockhart and Fr. Tim Bartlett to help us decide how to work out who to vote for when none of the election pamphlets seem to tick all the boxes we are looking for!