UFC: The Bible Says “No”

Shamrock, Ortiz, Rampage and Couture are all big names in the MMA world.  UFC  is one of the fastest growing sports world-wide and it’s competitors are increasingly becoming celebrities among teenage boys (and men who wish they were!)  It’s popular for sure but not universally so – debate rages about the barbaric nature of the fights and their influence on a culture that is already saturated with violence.  I occasionally watch this sport but couldn’t be described as an avid fan.  I know that some people believe Christians shouldn’t view this stuff and I wonder what they’d make of the likes of  Vitor Belfort  who is a Christian and UFC fighter.  There may be legitimate arguments on both sides of this debate but I am confident that Bible does say to Christians that UFC is wrong – as a title at least.

Roundhouse kicks, arm bars, throw downs, ground and pound, choke holds etc are not the ‘ultimate’ weapons at the disposal of Christian people.  Our ‘ultimate’ enemy is not a person in an octagon.  Paul the apostle says to the Ephesian Church that the Ultimate Fighting Championship takes place outside the octagon…

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.   Eph 6:12 ESV

The Ultimate Fight for Christian people is in the spiritual realm.  Our weapons are the Word of God, prayer, fellowship, power of the Holy Spirit and the authority of Jesus name.  We live in a permanent octagon – the battle against evil continues every day.  The outcome is not in doubt (even though at times we may feel the full weight of our opponents moves.)  Like the MMA guys we need to train ourselves for battle against the enemy and make use of the resources at our disposal so that the devil is resisted and evil overcome.

As Christians, if we don’t realise we’re in a fight it is likely that we will take a beating.  The key to success is to acknowledge that there is an opponent, be aware of his strategies and make full use of the superior power we have been given.

you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.   1 John 4:4 ESV

At Carnmoney Church we recently thought about this topic and you view the whole sermon (entitled Lord Over Demons) by clicking here.


Disappointing People to The Glory of God

disappointing peopleSaying the word ‘no’ can be a problem for lots of us.  The phone request, the email, the text message and the person who grabs your arm as you leave the meeting because they want you to join their team, attend their event, help with a project they’re planning or see if you’re free in the next week for a coffee and chat.  Immediately we feel bad because we realise refusing this person is going to make them disappointed and so rather than reply negatively we bow to the demand, attend the event, turn up at the meeting or arrange a coffee that we’d really rather not drink!  We fool ourselves into thinking that saying yes all the time is the “Christian thing to do” and that we’re being very selfish when we say no to the requests.

This is wrong.  There, I’ve said it.  Saying yes to all these requests is not a selfless thing to do it’s a selfish thing to do.  We say yes because we don’t want to disappoint people.  I agree to do stuff so that other people will like me.  Our motivation for agreeing to requests is often rooted in a desire to have other people think highly of us.  In the Sermon on The Mount  [that we’ve been looking at in Carnmoney recently]  Jesus instructs His followers not to be preoccupied with what people think of them.  He makes it clear that the life motivated by pride is rewarded by people but the life motivated by humility is rewarded by heaven.  Martin Lloyd Jones puts it like this

There is no reward from God for those who seek it from men.

Jesus says in Matthew 6:1 Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

For God’s glory and your own joy – feel free to say ‘no’

You can listen to the full message on Matthew 6 by clicking here

Mo Johnston and Shocking Transfers

I was ten years old and participating in a Norman Whiteside School of Soccer at Beltoy Playing Fields (in Carrickfergus) when the news broke.  Former Celtic player Mo Johnston had signed for Glasgow Rangers from French side Nantes.  It was huge news, Mo Johnston became only the second player since World War Two to play for both sides of the Old Firm.  Rangers fans burned their shirts and some returned their season tickets.  The kitman at Ibrox refused to sort Johnston’s kit and he was subjected to all sorts of offensive chanting from sections of both Rangers and Celtic support.  It’s the first shocking transfer I can remember being aware of.

Since then there have been others.  Figo moved from Catalan giants Barcelona to Real Madrid in 2000 and was greeted by a pig’s head being thrown onto the pitch at the Nou Camp when he returned.  In the summer of 2001 Tottenham Hotspur captain Sol Campbell made the transfer across north London and signed for arch rivals Arsenal.  More recently Carlos Tevez moved from the red half of Manchester (United) across to the blue (City) in 2009.  Closer to home Chris Morgan moved between Belfast’s Big Two (Linfield to Glentoran) in July 2004. In his first season with the Glens he proved to be a great signing by scoring goals against his former club (enabling the cock n’ hens to win both the CIS Cup and the League.)

January is when the transfer window is open and players can move between clubs.  I love this time of year and am addicted to the football gossip columns which speculate about who is moving where.  At BB recently I was telling the boys about the most shocking transfer of all.

..God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, [5] even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— (Ephesians 2:4-5 ESV)

Because of the cross, we have transferred from death to life; from darkness to light; from despair to hope; from punishment to pardon.  This is the most shocking transfer of all.  Paul the apostle tells the Corinthian church that it’s not just that we jump sides and pull on a nice clean kit.  The amazing truth of the gospel is that Jesus removes from us the old kit, the stained one and puts it on Himself.  He exchanges the purity and perfection of His life for our muddied and messed up one.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. – (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV)

The transfer window is still open and there’s been a request put in for you.  The fee has been agreed and paid but you’ve got to accept the offer and make the switch.  It’s the most shocking transfer of all – because of Jesus you can be clean, holy, righteous and pure.

But you are … a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. [10] Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10 ESV)

Exclusive Offer

Everybody loves an exclusive offer.  There’s something attractive about knowing you can’t get this kind of deal anywhere else.  Over the Christmas season lots of places have been trying to tempt us with an exclusive deal.  I’ve been considering this for a while and discovered that companies, magazines, websites and TV adverts are making an offer to us that they cannot deliver on.

In Subway recently I read this slogan on the T-Shirt of the person serving me “however you feel, whatever you want – we’ve got a sub for that.” No big deal you might think.  Just another marketing slogan from a fast food chain.  Actually I don’t think so.  This is a gospel message, a false gospel message.  It’s kind of like an alternative to the 23rd Psalm.

The lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. – see how Subway turns itself into a kind of god who can give us ‘whatever we want’? Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. –  see how Subway turns itself into a kind of god who is there for us ‘however we feel’?  The problem is Subway cannot deliver on the promise.  A sandwich can’t make any preparations for our future beyond this life on earth but the One True God can!  Jesus makes the important exclusive offer in our lives.  We need a Shepherd not a sandwich!

Jesus is the Only One who satisfies the eternal hunger in our lives (John 6:35)

Jesus is the Only One who enables us to face every circumstance (Philippians 4:11-13 & 4:19)

Jesus is the Only One who prepares an eternal home for us. (John 14:6)

Jesus is the Only One whose name brings salvation. (Acts 4:12)

Paul Baloche sings

Your Name is a strong and mighty tower
Your Name is a shelter like no other
Your Name, let the nations sing it louder
‘Cause nothing has the power to save but Your Name

The real exclusive offer of Christmas is found in the Bible “turn to me and be saved all you ends of the earth – for I am God and there is no other!

That’s all for now – I’m off for a footlong steak and cheese…

Life’s A Breeze: Part 2

On Sunday evening I watched the temperature drop to minus seven as I made my way along the Irish Hill Road.  It’s been a year (almost exactly) since we experienced conditions like this and it’ll probably be a while before we see the white stuff again.  Our country never copes well with bad weather, schools are forced to close, traffic grinds to a halt and events end up being cancelled.  Talk-back radio shows experience a high volume of calls from the public complaining about how ill equipped we are to deal with bad weather.  It always seems to take us by surprise and throws our plans into complete chaos.  I received a few messages during the cold snap to inform me of appointments that were no longer going to be fulfilled.  The weather brings uncertainty.  It can feel like we are totally at the mercy of our circumstances and our footing is not secure. (which I was reminded of forcibly when I landed on my back in the driveway of our house, much to the amusement of the driver in a passing car!)

The Bible tells us that even though the seasons are controlled by God, He himself doesn’t change like the seasons. In Carnmoney we’ve been reminded that God is worthy of worship at all times and in every circumstance.  One of the most powerful testimonies to this truth has come through the story of Jill McCloughry from Hillsong, Australia. (see the video below)

all of my life, in every season you are still God, I have a reason to worship

No matter what the temperature is or how uncertain the forecast may be, God is reliable, life is available through Him and nothing can snatch us from His hand. We can have sure footing when all around is slippery!

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow

The sun forbear to shine

But God who called me here below

Will be forever mine

John Newton/Amazing Grace

Life’s A Breeze: Part 1

Stuart Baggs is an absolute legend. Self-awareness is not a quality he possesses.  He has a youthful optimism that more than borders on the delusional and he’s pure quality entertainment.  “Everything I touch turns to sold” he said in one of his more humble moments on this season’s hit series, The Apprentice.  Very rarely do you encounter such a blatant caricature but when you do it is absolutely arresting to watch.  I’ve found myself cringing behind the cushion on our sofa as he defends himself before Lord Sugar in the boardroom. The facial expressions and reactions of the other contestants seem to have no impact upon Baggs ‘The Brand’  He’s in a total bubble of self-confidence and optimism that makes David Brent look shy and retiring!  The only sad thing is that this series will come to an end, allowing only personal acquaintances, family and work colleagues to be able to witness the life of the man who is Stuart Baggs.

His optimism about life is a far cry from the perspective of the author of Ecclesiastes (a book I’ve been studying/teaching for the last month or two.)  In this brutally honest book of the bible I’ve been reminded that under the sun – everything is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.  The author has pursued a variety of paths in life and all of them have left him feeling dissatisfied.  Study and wisdom; laughter and pleasure; building and work; sex and relationships; popularity and significance – all of these things were pursued fully but ended up leaving a sour taste in the author’s mouth.  A repeated phrase that comes at the end of every new pursuit or path is ‘this too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.’  There’s a blunt, down-to-earth reality about this book that is too often lacking in the Christian community.  It’s not a negative book, it’s not an abstract book, it’s a ‘how things really are’ book.  For many people life has become like chasing the wind.  Life is just out of reach.  Life has become impossible.  Life is all over the place and doesn’t seem to have any source or destination.  Thankfully, while the book raises these questions it doesn’t leave us believing that this is the only perspective on life.

knowing godWe are urged in the final chapter (and throughout the book) to lift our eyes from ‘under the sun’.  We need to look above the created world, above the sun, moon, stars, jobs, possessions, people and projects.  We need to lift our eyes above creation to the Creator.  He made us and place eternity in our hearts. He is an eternal God and He designed us for relationship with Himself.  When we swallow a temporary pain-killer for an eternal ache the pain will soon surface.  JI Packer says in his classic book Knowing God ‘there is in Christ a balm for every wound.’

It won’t be long before the bubble bursts for Stuart Baggs, the midas touch will evaporate and Lord Sugar may utter the famous words “You’re Fired.”  How will Baggs react?  What will he do next?  The author of Ecclesiastes will point him in the direction of his Creator and encourage him to find life in the only One who can offer it.

Hard Graft vs Holy Ghost

This Palm Sunday at Carnmoney we were thinking about Jesus and the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane and a couple of things struck me quite powerfully as I studied this passage.

Firstly the sovereignty of God extends to the bleakest of circumstances imaginable.  Even though His closest disciples fall asleep, even though Judas betrays Him, even though He’s sweating drops of blood and longing for the hour to pass from Him, even though it seems as though His life is in the ‘hands of sinners’ God is in control.  God said through the prophet Zechariah “I will strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered.”

boxer knockoutGod’s hand is in control, even when we see the horror of the cross.  And so even when my circumstances are unpleasant, I can be sure that He is working out His purposes through my life.

Another thing that really impacted and challenged me is that being determined to follow Jesus and be faithful to Him is not enough.  Peter confidently declared even if all fall away I will not’ Unfortunately quite soon after he made this statement, Peter fell asleep instead of praying, his determination was not matched by dependency upon God.  Determination minus dependency equals failure.

Hard Graft will always lose in a punch up with the Holy Ghost.

The last thing from this passage which really encouraged me was the fact that this scene took place in a garden.  The Divine unity of Scripture is revealed in a very plain way.  The beginning of the Bible has a scene in the garden where Adam fails a test.  He chooses to do his own will and disobeys the direct instruction of God.  Here we see Jesus contrasted with Adam.  Jesus obeys God in the garden and passes the test, whereas Adam disobeyed God in the garden and failed the test.  The consequence of Adam’s failure is that sin and death enter the whole world.  The consequence of Jesus passing the test is that forgiveness and life are available to the whole world.  The bad news of Genesis is defeated by the good news of the Gospel – and that’s what’s so great about Easter!

You can listen to the message from Sunday in full by clicking here.