Fitzroy front

The most important thing about the Sunday service is not the sermon… or the hymns… or the prayers… or the Bible Reading… or the offering… or fellowship together.

The Sunday morning worship service is a realignment.

All week long we are pushed and pulled out of alignment. For six days the human race continue the great error of Eden. We reach to be more than human. We are tempted to be gods. We want to be in charge. We know as much as God knows. As in Eden such actions lead to becoming less than human and we dehumanise others in our wake. 

All Sunday worship services, no matter how boring and no matter how dull the preacher, is God’s resource to realign.

We offer up worship to God, giving God Lordship over all that he has designed and crafted but also sustains. This is not a oppressive Lordship. God does not dehumanise us for his own self centred ego. Indeed, God has “de-divined” himself to become human and even dehumanised himself to death on an inhumane cross.

No, God as Lord is for our best. When Jesus offers us life in all its fulness he is offering us the full potential of the life that he gave us. With God as Lord and we as the stewards of creation we live out our human vocation and there will find the deep gladness of realignment. 

Psalm 8 tells us who God is and why he looks at us twice. It points out our role in creation as stewards over animals, birds and sea creatures. 

When we are better aligned we always begin by looking to God who knows how, why and what we were made for. With God in place we can then look down from where we are and treat the world with the care and compassion of God, as seen in Jesus.

So no matter whether we like the worship, or whether we think the preacher is Biblical and relevant, being part of a worship service is enough. It realigns and the more Sundays we go without that realignment… well there is a reason God made it weekly! 



If I had a chance to write a chapter to add on to CS Lewis’s Screwtape Letters it would be about how The Devil sending his evil minions to mess up my driving.

And there they are at every junction. I look left and there is a trail of cars. There is nothing coming to the right. BUT… just when the line on the left is passed and nothing more is coming a demon presses GO and the cars start arriving from the right… and on it goes.

Or at traffic lights. I can drive the two miles to Fitzroy and have every red light, even the ones for pedestrians. And if the demon is on form then the light changes just as I might get through it. When you are light for a meeting… oh my. The rage!

A little while ago I was particularly bothered and enraged, shouting at demons and angels and God. I needed a last light to be red in order to make a meeting on time and a demon pressed red. Aggghhhh!

As I sat there watching all the traffic that could move I started asking how they were more important than me… and that was when I had a spiritual eureka moment.

They were at least as important to me. They had meetings to be at too. They had schedules. They might be even later than me.

The car is a wonderful symbol of our ego-centred bubble. In the car we are the only ones. It is all about where we are going and we have no connection or sensitivity to the others on the road. We are centre. We are the only ones that matter. Our destination is priority.

Stopped at those traffic lights I suddenly realised that other people needed me to stop at the lights so that they could get to their destination. Others needed me to give way. Everybody else has the right tone on time at their meeting. 

Suddenly the other cars were not demonic minions simply to get in my way and annoy my day. Those in other cars were equally precious human beings. 

When Jesus asked me to deny myself and take up my cross daily to follow him it was for times like these. It was practical humble service for others. It was to rid me of my selfishness and make me more Jesus-like.

It is the fruit of the Spirit in my car. It is love and kindness and gentleness and forbearance and goodness and indeed self control. 

Not so much Screwtape Letters as How Then Should We Live!




For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

             - John 3:16

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

               - Romans 5:8

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”

                - 1 John 3:16


God loves human beings. 

Humans haven’t made it easy for God. The early chapters of the Bible tel us of humanity wanting to be like gods themselves. Alas, when the reached to become more than human we ended up being less than the full humanity God designed for us. Alienated from God, each other and the entire creation. 

Even when humans caused enmity with God, God never stopped loving humans. The verses at the top of this blog tell us of such love. The Bible is riddled with such truth. It is a New Testament mantra.

It is a wonderful spiritual caress to know that God loves us. As we are actually. His grace is unmerited favour. Isaiah’s experience in the Temple (Isaiah 6) reveals that. Isaiah finds himself before a holy God and feels ruined without hope BUT God moves before Isaiah can. God acts and takes away his guilt.

God loves human beings. 

That theological truth has consequences for us that might add a collide to the caress. It demands action. Action that could be costly and difficult.

They say that a nation’s humanity can be judged by how it cares for its most vulnerable. Those most vulnerable are those made in God’s image. God loves them. It is that love that inspired Jesus to teach us to feed them, give them water, shelter, visit them. Anything less is disobedience. It is all driven by our theology of humanity

At one of Fitzroy’s recent Prayer Meetings a prayer led me to wonder if a nation can also be judged by how they care and love their enemies. If we dehumanise the other whoever the other is in our particular eyes then we are out of sync with the heart of God.

This is why Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

A huge chunk of God's holiness, his otherness, is that he loves his enemies. A test of our growth in holiness must surely be linked to how much we are learning to love the other. 

God loves humans. It is an amazing truth. It caresses and collides.


Love and Law

- What you did was wrong

- I know

- Why did you do it then

- Because it is right


These might be the words that Rahab might have said when she lied about those Israelite spies in Jericho.

Or could they be said, at various stages in the Old Testament Book of Ruth, where a family go against law and tradition in moving to Moab, marrying Moabites and bringing the Moabite Ruth back to Israel.

Or maybe when Jesus was healing on sabbaths and the Pharisees were holding him to what was right and Jesus knowing he was wrong did what was right! You wouldn’t have your animals in pain on a sabbath he probed.

In all these situations what was right in law and tradition was over turned by what was right in loving, being gracious and kind.

I have been increasingly intrigued by this this conversation between law We often seem caught into an erroneous idea that law is the power that defines love. 

Not so said Jesus, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

So the law hangs on the love not the other way around. We would do really well to get that right.

Oh… the opening quotation is from the TV detective show Luther. Maybe well named. Wasn’t it Luther who realised that love was more important than law too!



My friend Rev Tracey Cowan Henry asked on social media what our thoughts were on 3:16. She didn’t even have to add John. 3:16 is like a brand.

I was surprised at my response. There was uncertainty if not a little confusion.

John 3 verse 16 is Bible gold. It is this wonderful verse that expresses it all. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” 

It is the good news. The best news. It is this unbelievable truth that God loves his world. That God loves people. There is a theology of humanity as being precious to God. There is a theology of God’s giving. As John put it earlier in his first chapter, “The Land Of God who takes away the sin of the world”. There is hope for life and eternity. 

It might be the verse that I have used the most in my forty years sharing my faith. As I said, Bible gold.

Yet, when Tracey posted I was not at elated. I sensed that this mighty verse had been tarnished. It is such a concise verse that in recent decades it has been so over used that we have somehow abused it. Seeing it at sports events, music events, every kind of event and on the side of buildings and buses. Bible gold had been reduced to a cheap cliche. Oh it is impossible to lose its truth but it has lost its impact.

Perhaps the truth has been dulled too. It is a verse that has been domesticated and confined. The breadth and depth and height of this cosmic truth has got all personal. 

It is as if this great love and giving of God was simply for me to ask for forgiveness for a few bad words and sneaky cigarettes when I had my Damascus Road with God in May 1979. It is like I was handed a little formula to put in my pocket so that I could pray for help when the exam paper looked a bit tricky.

Oh, thank God all of that is included in this verses truth but 3:16 is so much more than that. This is God loving the cosmos. For God so loved the world… doesn’t mean a collection of people who believe. It is God loving the entire cosmos, everything that he had lovingly created. He wants it all to be redeemed. He gives his son and on that cross Jesus takes on all the world’s evil. This verse is about the darkness that murders Sarah Everard. My petty little habits are only the crumbs.

The danger of domesticating it is that our theology gets too personal and we lose the societal reach. This is why we read in the Presbyterian book about The Troubles Discovering Grace that church services went on in the same streets as bombs had been going off and it wasn’t even mentioned. That is a shrunken Gospel. A very diluted 3:16.

The gods in the world of Jesus’ day, and that first century of the early Church, were not gods who loved. Roman gods needed appeased. They didn’t visit or give of themselves. This is a huge ginormous and wonderfully unique Gospel. It is wonderfully good news. Let us protect it. Let us give it its all. And marvel that in this cosmic encounter us humans get the hope of life and eternity. 



Social Discipleship

Every day it seems there is another headline about social media abuse or trolling. Politicians, sportsmen and women, journalists, pop stars are all open to all kinds of anonymous verbal attack and threats.

As well as this we have been aware for some years at the teenage mental health problems associated with social media. Cyberbullying and comparing their lives with others have put a stress on teens that former generations didn’t have to face. 

It would easy to just ban social media altogether but let us take a deep breath. New forms of communication have been shuddering the foundations of societies since the first picture was carved onto the wall of a cave, or a word could be written down, or the printing press was invented, or the radio, the telephone, television and the world wide web. At every stage there has been immediate suspicion, a time of coming to terms with and finally social behaviour patterns to deal with it all.

Of course during our Coronavirus Year we have suddenly realised that social media is not of the devil! Video chat apps, broadcast platforms, video search engines, or plain social media might instead have been a God given gift. They have been a blessed resource to creatively hold congregations together in the absence of gatherings

As the shuddering of social media impact slows we need new behavioural patterns honed and modelled and delivered. The Church has been slow to get to grips with this. At our Conferences and in our work on discipleship we should have been focusing in on material and resources for Social Media Discipleship. 

On my first week on Facebook in 2006 I remember saying to my wife Janice over tea, “You know there will come a time when we will need a facebook Pastor”. My very first connections had had me pastor one friend, share apologetics with another and become involved in some evangelism with someone I didn’t really know at all. I knew then that there was a huge potential in this exciting if dangerous new world

Fifteen years later as we come out of Covid 19 lockdown Fitzroy as a congregation are imagining how we can reap the potential of social media. How can we reach, engage and disciple a world seeking God? The social media pastor is a whole lot closer to reality and many churches are already doing it.

As someone who spends hours on social media every day I have created my own discipleship pillars. Based on Paul’s letter to the Philippians I hold to four principles that I try to be consciously aware of as I engage. I have learned a lot about social media engagement over the years just as I hope I have matured in all aspects of my spiritual life. 



Paul prays for the Philippians: 

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ… (Philippians 1:9-11)

Love and knowledge and depth of insight. Trying to line up those three things is a full house of wisdom. Love first. God’s love. Grace. Then knowledge. God’s revelation. Let the word of God dwell in you richly (Colossians 3:16). Finally, from the marriage of those two perhaps - insight.

Insight is defined as “the capacity to gain an accurate and deep understanding of someone or something”. The new world of social media should not be rushed into without seeking insight. How does it work? Where are the strengths? Where are the weaknesses? How are things perceived in a public forum? When you are talking to someone you know personally, how will others who don’t know the context read your post? How quickly do you respond to confrontational messages, if you do at all? When should you use the front page of Facebook or Twitter and when should you moved to personal message?

Prayerful insight is needed in all these layers of social media communication. 



Philippians 2:5-11 is a wonderful poetic hymn of incarnation theology. Jesus attitude of love, posture of humility and actions as a servant. The incarnation changes the world and the ways to live in it.

Two lessons from incarnation that I apply to social media.

Firstly, that it was “the word made flesh and moving in among us” (John 1:14). Moving in. When we have the same attitude as Jesus our calling and mission is to be in middle of neighbourhood whether that neighbourhood is virtual or real. 

There are an estimated 2.7 billion people on Facebook every month. Oh my. There are tens of thousands specifically searching for Jesus on-line. Where should we be? Those of us from a reformed tradition turned our backs on the monastic lives of abstaining from the world believing that God wants us to set up a Kingdom in its midst. The incarnation tells us to be involved.

When we get involved the posture of incarnation is humility. We follow the God of the manger, the donkey and the cross. Humility is a word that isn’t quickly associated with social media. I think particularly of Twitter. Twitter has a tendency to encourage acerbic arrogant pontification. God’s word made flesh in Twitter’s 280 characters should shine with a humble posture.

That is not to say our contributions need to be soft. We are in conversations about art and faith and politics and all sorts. Yet, even in the banter about football I try my very best to refrain from barbed attacks. Sometimes our ideas of fun don’t have a Christlikeness. I strive to be a good loser and humble winner. 

If that is how it is with sport, how much more with politics and religion. We need to believe courageously but carry it gently. I attempt to engage on all social media with this spirit Paul’s words to the Philippians.

Humility also keeps me honest. Confession is good for the soul and for our life long repentance and I am always open to rebuke, reassessing my tone and apologising if something came across wrong.



Honesty and strong moral principles, integrity is pragmatic everyday holiness. Writing to the Philippians Paul spells it out, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8) If we bring such things to social media we will again stand out, be a light in a murky world.

I tend to try and be more positive and hopeful in my posts, sometimes slow to rush up an angry response to something but always quick to post anything positive going on in our current affairs.



That standing out in a murky world is what it is all about. Jesus called us “the light of the world”. Paul longs for the Philippians to “shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.” (Philippians 2:15-16)

Casual engagement with social media is dangerous. Indeed Nona Jones writes in her book From Social Media to Social Ministry, “Passive consumption is what adversely affects users… The issue with Social media arises when it’s used primarily to share content that people consume and compare their lives with. The research shows that social media becomes a powerful and positive resource when it’s used to facilitate connections and rebuild community.”

We overwrite casual engagement by having a purpose to our actions. When we fall in with careless mindless living in any area of our lives we are opening ourselves up to that old phrase the devil finds work for idol hands. Our intentions to be Christlike in all our engagements with the aim of being a witness might save us from the many dangers at play. 

All of the above are general principles for any kind of life of discipleship but for me they are particularly pertinent for this new social media world. Social media exposes sins that you can get away with in the real world. Gossip or back biting is have limited consequences around a coffee table but on social media it exposes the sin. For me therefore social media heightens our discipleship. We should remember that like social media, God sees and hears everything!


Mum's Skip

It was like a liturgical act, embedded with a hard spiritual truth. 

We were clearing my parents house. It was a beautiful house full of beautiful things but with mum having passed away and dad living in a Residential home with dementia the things were no longer needed. A few things found their way to family members, most of the furniture to Habitat For Humanity Restore and the rest ended up in the skip. It was all top end, expensive and tasteful.

Impermanent things. As we cleared I became aware that I was acting out a song and a Biblical truth.


“All these impermanent things
Well they're trying to convince me
Baptize my soul and rinse me
Purge my mind of honesty and fire
All these impermanent things
Well they all add up to zero
They make-believe that they're my hero
Then they fill my mind with doubt and false desires

Why keep hanging on
To things that never stay
Things that just keep stringin' us along
From day to day”

-          From Impermanent Things by Peter Himmelman


Wikipedia will tell you that Peter Himmelman is an orthodox Jew who prays 3 times a day and is the son-in-law of Bob Dylan. The Jewish part explains Himmelman’s deep spiritual insight. When I did my weekly radio show on BBC Radio Ulster I played Himmelman very often. Impermanent Things was the most played.

As a preacher it is one of my very favourite songs. I have used Himmelman's words in a sermon on Matthew chapter 6 v 19-34. If you didn’t know about Himmelman’s deep Jewish faith you would be sure that he had used this passage as his inspiration. 

Of course the Gospel account of Matthew Gospel is the Gospel most intent is revealing Jesus as a continuation of Jewish tradition so perhaps it is not so surprising that he and Himmelman would be on similar themes.

Jesus is saying in the second half of this most famous Sermon that where are treasure is our hearts will be also. He is suggesting that we invest our lives on eternal things that last rather than the impermanent things that Himmelman so poetically describes in this song.

Jesus goes on to talk about how we shouldn’t be worrying about impermanent things and Himmelman puts it beautifully here how these impermanent things play tricks with our heads and hearts and throw us of the better more lasting course. Jesus is on the same idea.

So why do we get obsessed with impermanent things? We are back to me piling my parents' things onto a skip outside their house. So many things. A few months before they were vital things in my parents lives but now they were useless; rubbish even! It made me ponder Himmelman's song and Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. A cold liturgical lesson in the emptiness of things.

On a more recent Himmelman record There Is No Calamity, the first song 245th Peace Song begins:


"The holes in people’s lives need to be filled
I get that. I understand that.
But you’ve got to be careful what you fill them with
Do you get that? Understand that?"



One summer in Cape Town (wintertime there!) around 2004 I was led into a wrestling with two Scriptures. A debate arose in my soul over the poverty that Amos raged against and the poverty that Jesus called blessed.

I had seen both in visceral reality. The blessing of mutual interdependence of neighbours on a township, alongside a cemetery with the weekly graves for baby after baby being dug. The debate raged inside of me and still goes on.

During Coronavirus I have another similar conversation going on. 

There was a time in the first lockdown where I feared that the government would side with businesses staying open against numbers dying of the virus. The phrase was Wealth against Health.

It was a lazy phrase. It was like the shallowness of a tabloid headline. As I worried about Business being the weight to decide our national response to a pandemic I was prayerfully concerned for local businesses, making decisions to help them stay afloat in that crisis.

It had raised something that has irked for most of my life. From Fair Trade, to stocks and shares in the arms trade, to the horrendous prices of antiviral drugs during the AIDS catastrophe it always seemed to me that profit had become the god of the age. People were less important than the price of shares.

So, like my dilemma with the poverty of Amos and the Sermon and the Mount so I am now unpacking the difference between Jeremiah asking us to pray for the peace and prosperity of the city (Jeremiah 29:7) and Jesus telling us not to store up treasure on earth (Matthew 6:19) or Paul warning Timothy that money was the root of all kinds of evil (1 Tim 6:10).

I hear Jeremiah and pray for the prosperity of Belfast but I remember that it is the city, not some parts of the city being prosperous while other parts know nothing about it. 

I am aware of the need of viable businesses that do not only give the citizens of a city their living in terms of paying their bills, the goods a city needs and also, let us not forget, the sense of vocational well being. That job satisfaction seems to me to be part of the deal of the prophets prosperity.

I am also acutely fearful as a pastor of the dangerous temptation of wealth. I have literally been taken aback during the preaching of sermons at the clarity of Jesus warnings against any kind of love for money. Wealth has always seemed to be the most seductive of things.

My church community live and work in places rife with temptation. Much more rife I would suggest than sexuality. Making pontifications on the people’s credible faith based on sexuality while ignoring this glaring spiritual dilemma is a little Biblically amiss.

So here I wrestle between Jeremiah’s ambition for prosperity of the city and Jesus declaration that we cannot serve God and money. It is discussion that is very tight with tension. It needs a clarity of Biblical thinking. It needs the discipline of the Holy Spirit. It needs a higher priority than I suggest we have given to it.

How can the four corners of city become prosperous without us losing our souls to wealth. I look forward to pursuing this when I can support a local cafe’s business and have a chat around the table with some business heads seeking a holy approach to profit. 


Breathing grace

“Grace is the oxygen of another world and we like breathing our own.” A friend quoted this phrase of mine on Twitter and it was one of those lines that you hear and say, "Wow. I like that. Did I really say it". Songwriters speak of being conduits of God or something beyond them. Lines like that are as close as I get!

I at least thought it was good enough to reblog. 

Jesus truth was grace. God was interrupting the way the world was with the way the world could be, God’s way. It was a scandalous truth that ultimately got Jesus crucified. The world couldn’t handle anything so subversively ridiculous.

Jesus illustrated it well in his parable of the Prodigal Son. As the religious leaders of his day listened in, Jesus painted a vivid picture of a rascal who took his father’s inheritance and squandered it on sex and drugs and rock n roll, to give it a modern twist. Finding himself destitute he heads for home.

As the story moves towards climax you can almost hear the Holywood soundtrack building the tension. Jesus says that the father sees the rogue from afar and the religious leaders are getting all excited about what judgement is going to come down... and... the father wraps his arms around him, puts a ring on his finger and throws a party. Jesus mentions the loyal, good living, brother as a comparison to the wild hedonist which makes even more acute the sense of the injustice.

Grace. It seems madness but it is our only hope. It is God’s way of love; loved as we are without merit. Did I say ridiculous?

The follower of Jesus is more than aware of the amazing grace that embraces the wretch and brings the wholeness of salvation. As Paul put it so well in Ephesians, “It is by grace you are saved through faith...”

In Philippians he spoke of this in his own life, “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.”

For Paul this was a whole different oxygen. From attempting by his own efforts at holiness to relying on God’s interruption of grace what Jesus achieved for him in his life, death and resurrection.

Down though the history of Christianity it has been a struggle for those who, like Paul, get this theological eureka moment. Falling into the arms of God’s grace like Jacob, Moses, David, Zaccheus and Paul before us we then go back to preferring the oxygen that we grew up on.

We start to set little legalist systems and then pummel ourselves under the guilt of failing to live up to them. No matter how much we believe in the doctrine of grace we look in the mirror in the morning and would rather be better looking, thinner, more successful and more holy.

We never allow ourselves to be loved as we are, as grace informs us we are. Then as we go back to breathing that old oxygen we cut off the supply of the new oxygen that not only loves us as we are but has the transformative power to love us into who God can make us be.


I See You

To be seen. I have been amazed recently at how many times a simple text, social media message or phone call has been received with a "thank you for seeing me". Coronavirus times have isolated us. We have felt a little alienated from our communities. To be seen has become something special. 

Hagar was the focus of a sermon Rev Lesley- Ann Wilson preached in Fitzroy on International Women’s Day just a week before our world went into lockdown. Having just returned from a trip to the Wilderness in the Holy Land, Lesley had some rich content for the sermon.

I was very drawn to the story. It resonated with me as the Biblical outworking of a Martyn Joseph song and a great truth that all of us can take into our lives.

Hagar was like an invisible woman. A slave to begin with she is then given by Sarah to Abram to give them a child. Sarah then became jealous of her and mistreated her. She heads out into the dessert to escape.

Then this invisible woman becomes the first person in Scripture to be visited by an angel. After God blessed Hagar the text tells us:


She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to : “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered. (Genesis 16:13-14)


I love this. God sees Hagar. She knows it and calls God, “the God who sees me”and the well “The well of the one who sees me”.

In a life that seemed invisible, where nobody cared and everyone seemed to be abusing her she is seen by God. Wow!

I was immediately drawn to on elf my favourite Martyn Joseph songs, I See You.

From his first Sony album Being There released in 1992 Martyn himself described the song at the time:


“A simple statement of my personal belief, that no one will, or does, get any eternally with anything.”


That fascinates me. Martyn’s focus in writing seems to have been those who carried out evil acts. God sees them. They won’t get away with it.

I have always heard the song as being about the victims. God sees the victims. He sees the the impact of evil.

To know that God sees us will change our sense of self worth and hope. Whatever we are struggling through. Whatever is going against us. God sees us as he did Hagar. Wow. I’ll take that encouragement:


“I see the playgrounds with drugs

Children’s cloths in the mud



What about salvation

I see you, nothing escapes my attention”


God sees you. It is good to be seen. It is good to see others too.