Timehope?

We can’t believe the age of our children, the length of time we’ve been in our house or how long it has been since we got married. Amnesia has reached an epidemic level. Instagram, Twitter and Facebook are full of old photos reminding us of the passing of time. I’m glad there were no smart phones in my pleated trouser days

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TimehopEveryone’s resembling Victor Meldrew at the minute. We can’t believe the age of our children, the length of time we’ve been in our house or how long it has been since we got married. Amnesia has reached an epidemic level. Instagram, Twitter and Facebook are full of old photos reminding us of the passing of time. I’m glad there were no smart phones in my pleated trouser days. The Timehop fascination creates a mix of reactions. Being reminded of the past is a sensitive subject. Apparently the app was inspired by the feature in Mario Kart where you could race Maya’s ghost (your previous race) and see how you were getting on. “How am I progressing with the passing of time?” is something we’ve always wanted to measure. A nagging question that plays on repeat. It causes some to get their picture taken for Weight Watchers in last year’s jeans and others to dread a school reunion. “Where was I checking in this time last year? Who was I with and am I better or worse off now?”

I used to be frustrated with people who lived in the past. Working in a church context means that you encounter them a lot! Sorry, I should say “us” a lot. Truth is, I want to go back. Grief makes me long for days that have gone. Days with Dad and great times as family that are a part of my past. I’m beginning to appreciate more the nostalgic desire to go backwards. I just don’t want my undercut, train-track braces, shell suit or tassled shoes to be unearthed!  I think about BBQs at Brown’s Bay and the smell of coins from the cash register on the bus Dad drove, the way he wrestled with our boys, laughed at them when they were misbehaving and added cream to dessert that definitely did not need more cream. Time has passed and I can’t believe it. I want to go back.

Where should I turn? Anti-ageing cream has limits. No matter how much is applied (apparently) it cannot reverse the tick, tick, tick of time. It has no power to restore the Timehop days. As a Christian, I believe that knowing Jesus takes me back (and forward) in hope. I believe He was there in the beginning when God looked at creation and saw that it was good. The perfection of those initial days are etched into every human life. A memory of how things should be that motivates our complaints and sensitises us to the brokenness of life. There’s an echo of Eden in everyone. We have a God-given memory of a world without pain. We long to ‘Timehop’ to those days before separation from God and all the other consequences of sin. Everyone complains. We’re all disgruntled. Loss has not discriminated and its impact is universal. The Good News we find in the pages of the Bible is that God provides a Redeemer. One who has power to undo the sadness, heal our hurts and restore to us the reality of perfection that we know is lost. The Bible reveals to us that Jesus’ biggest frustration was with the religious types who pretended life was ‘fine’. He reserved His harshest words for the people around church who gave off the impression that they had no needs. To be a Christian, all you need is need. Jesus made it clear that hunger for a right world was a blessed position to be in. He said

blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.

The inner throwback in all of us is to a perfect day without pain, without tears, without sickness and death. We grieve now because we’re all too aware that this perfection is not our reality. It has passed.

At The Cross, Jesus assures me of His ability to undo the pain and sadness we encounter in this life. He experiences death and has victory over it. Jesus calls me forward in hope. God is not in the business of evading suffering or dodging death. He overcomes it. He recovers what has been lost. He redeems the former day. God’s way is not to erase and start again. He resurrects. Our hope is not for ‘all new things’ our hope is for ‘all things new.’ His victory over the grave shows how capable God is of renewal. Christian belief is that the best days are always ahead. The good old day will be restored!

3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.
4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” [Revelation 21:3-5]

… no matter how much the Victor Meldrew in me struggles to believe it.

Markers for Missionaries

Turn right at the traffic lights and follow the road until you reach the petrol station on your right hand side. Once you see the signs for the primary school take the next left and we’re beside the house with the red door. As we pass each landmark on the journey to a new place we are encouraged that we’re on the right track. There’s something very reassuring about seeing the petrol station, the primary school or the red door that we’ve been told about before hand. While we haven’t arrived, these markers help us to keep going. To not give up or assume that we’re lost. Jesus prepares His disciples for their journey to His Father’s house and highlights some things to look out for on the way.

I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves … men will deliver you over to courts and flog you in the synagogues .. Brother will deliver brother over to death .. When they persecute you in one town flee to another.  [Matthew 10:16ff]

puppetsWhen people are critical of us or when trouble strikes our lives, we quickly assume that we’ve gone off track. That it should not be this way. We default to ‘entitlement mode’ and get angry at God, He’s let us down. We deserve better. Alternatively, we tie ourselves in knots of guilt assuming that God is punishing us for something. ‘If I was more holy than I am right now then maybe I wouldn’t have to put up with this horrible situation in my life?’

The liberating truth is that every trouble, hard time and persecution we face as Christians is a marker that we are on the right path and a reminder that God is faithful. The Bible repeatedly reveals God’s people enduring opposition. Doing the right thing and getting the wrong result is a feature of life for the people God. Moses went to Pharaoh and ended up being pursued by the Egyptians, Daniel prayed and ended up in a lions den, Joseph ran from sexual temptation and ended up in jail. These characters hint at the only truly Innocent One who suffered on the cross even though He was without sin. Jesus says to His disciples “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.” [Matthew 10:24] In our eagerness to ‘be the hands and feet of Jesus’ we’ve got to remember what happened to those hands and feet!

When God seems to be killing us, He’s actually saving us. [Tim Keller – Counterfeit Gods]

It’s incredibly freeing to understand that Jesus never promised His disciples their ‘best life now.’ The only way that life on earth will be your best life is, if you never experience the perfection of heaven. He said we are sheep among wolves! In the book of Acts, we get the name of a place that we need to journey through before we reach this best life..

continue in the faith, … through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. [Acts 14:22]

You haven’t arrived – keep going!

Sing when you’re gutted?

One of the hardest chants to be on the receiving end of at a football match is “you’re not singing anymore” It’s horrible to hear this when you’re team has gone from a winning position to being in a losing one. It’s so hard to listen to. “You only sing when you’re winning” is a fair enough description of how our lives play out in the day to day. We’re often at the mercy of our circumstances, our motivation to sing can be snatched from us by a deflected goal. Peter instructs first century Christians to ‘rejoice, though now for a little while you have been grieved by various trials.’ This is a call to sing and worship God at all times. So should we just put on a brave face and sing when we’re clearly losing? Should we grin and bear it in order to appear more spiritual?

No. Peter calls our attention to a victory that is assured. He says that we have a ‘living hope’ because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He points out that the final outcome of the cross guarantees a result for those who trust in it. “According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable…” There is no sell by date or manufacturer’s warranty on the victory that was accomplished at the cross. It’s lasting. Peter says God’s people always have reason to sing because the victory is not in doubt and cannot be snatched from us by a last minute screamer from Ronaldo (sorry City fans.)

Peter didn’t always see it this way. He wanted to stop the cross at all costs. He tried to persuade Jesus not to go there. He cut off the ear of one of the mob who came to arrest Jesus. He denied even knowing Jesus. The thing that Peter once tried hardest to prevent became the thing that he gave his life to proclaim. There was a point in his life when Peter could see no sense at all in Jesus being nailed to a Roman Cross or lying dead in a tomb, it seemed like such a waste of potential. The resurrection changed everything.

Every buried hope and shattered dream we have, needs to be viewed in light of the cross. We face trials and hardship all the time as God’s people. Our province has been plunged into real despair by the tragic deaths of Noel, Graham and Nevin Spence – as well as the recent death of Fermanagh GAA player, Brian Og Maguire. There are no easy answers or explanations to satisfy the huge questions that are raised by horrific circumstances such as these (or other personal disappointments we face that never make the headlines.) Our only hope is to look at the cross and pray that one day in God’s eternal plan we would see these situations differently than the way we see them now. That we would boast in God’s ability to overcome evil with good. That we would realise how we see things is flawed and limited in comparison to God’s perspective. The Bible gives airplay to a different version of events, and calls us to trust beyond what our eyes can see. Jesus death on the cross offers us an imperishable inheritance that will never fade. Victory is not in doubt. We can sing.

Colossal Confusion: Part 4

We’re used to hearing this phrase “I’m a celebrity – get me out of here.”  The implication is that because the person yelling the phrase is famous, they should not have to tolerate the circumstances they are in.  We have been taught the idea that if you are a celebrity then life should be painless.  It’s interesting to see how radically different the message of the bible is, in contrast to that viewpoint.  Read Colossians Ch 4

Paul The Apostle is in prison with other church leaders as he writes this letter to the church and he makes a request of the Colossian Christians

“pray also for us that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison – that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.”

Not quite “I’m an Apostle – get me out of here” but rather pray that while I’m in here God would open a door for me to speak of Christ.  In verse 5 of chapter 4 Paul instructs the Christians in Colossae to ‘make the best use of time.’  Paul applies this instruction to his own life – rather than grumbling about how things have turned out, Paul wants to make the best use of a prison sentence!  This verse is really spoke to me today.  I felt a sense of shame as I thought of the time I have wasted and the opportunities that have slipped by as I mumbled about my circumstances rather than making the most of them.  This is the call of God upon the life of EVERY Christian.  ‘Make the most of every opportunity’ Ephesians 5:16

The ultimate expression of how even bad times can produce good results is –  the cross.  Of course the first disciples would look on at the horror of what was happening and ask “how can this be good?’ ‘how can anything good come from this?”  An eternal perspective is necessary if we are to sense that life’s problems have a purpose.  It takes genuine faith to believe that there’s a point to our pain.  The limitations we face are often for our good.

As we thought about Living in The Real World on Sunday at Carnmoney we considered the hope that the cross gives us.  Avoidance of problems or escape from our circumstances is not necessarily the best course of action.  We were glad that the bible is not silent on suffering and drew comfort from the fact that Jesus experienced abandonment and betrayal of close friends. One of the main things that guided Jesus through this horrendous period of His earthly life was a grasp of Scripture.  Jesus knew the incredible truth that – God’s promises remain when our problems are real.  His Word is not in jeopardy when the internet goes down, when illness hits, when printers jam or trains are cancelled.  God is working out His purposes in and through the mess of our lives.  Paul recognises this and asks the Colossian Church to pray for God to open a door for the message about Jesus to be spoken in the context of a prison.

If you feel trapped or imprisoned today by: ill health, financial constraints, family problems, work issues or anything else, know that not all freedom is good.  Ask God to enable you to ‘make the best use of time’ even in the unpleasant situation you face.  Contemplate the good news that has come from the cross and ask God to help you trust Him – even in the pain or hard time you are enduring right now.

VERSE TO REMEMBER
“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it – with thanksgiving.”  Colossians 4:2

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.

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

Surprised by Scripture: Part 1

I’ll be totally honest – when I realised that my daily readings were going to be in Lamentations this week my instant reaction was not good. Actually I was dreading it. I’d never read this book before (but let’s face it the name kind of gives the plot away!) and it wasn’t long before I discovered some stuff that reaffirmed my preconceived view of this book. Speaking about God the author of Lamentations says..

“He is a bear lying in wait for me, a lion in hiding; he turned aside my steps and tore me to pieces he has made me desolate; he be
nt his bow and set me as a target for his arrow.”
Lamentations 3:10-12


Not the most inspiring section of Scripture I have ever read and we’re not likely to memorise it in our youth group or Sunday school but I guess we’ve got to appreciate the honesty of how this author feels or thinks about God. Ten verses later in this ‘lament’ I was struck by how this same author talks about God…

But this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness
“The LORD is my portion” says my soul

“therefore I will hope in him.”
The LORD is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul who seeks him.

This is worth committing to memory so that when you feel as though God is using you as target practise you can be confident of His steadfast love. I am glad to have been guided to Lamentations this week and really love the honesty of this prayer.

I don’t know if there’ll be a part 2 to this series but I hope that God continues to surprise me through His word.