1 Jan 2021

Three quarters of my HOPE faded

 The idea came to me when Sam and I started putting the lights up around the outside of the house. Every year there’s always been enough lights on the cable for us to outline the front of the house and continue on along the fence between us and our next door neighbour. Why not use that extra length of lights and write HOPE along the fence?

Why the word hope?
For a few reasons: for one it seemed to sum up how people were feeling. A vaccine was available with others on the way Hope was in the air. Maybe we could return to a more normal life. Maybe we could again hug our loved ones and not have to be fearful of each cough or shiver.
But mostly as it was the third week of November (yes that was early, but we had our reasons) and Christmas was just around the corner. We wanted to point to the hope that is found in Jesus. We wanted in a small way to proclaim that His Birth brought Hope to a dark world.
Due to the position of our house, I’d be beginning HOPE from the letter E and working my way along the fence. I was so enthusiastic about the idea, but what I hadn’t figured was the length of lights that we needed to write those four letters. I was only really able to get as far as the letter E. We had no other electric lights, so I solved the problem by finishing the word off with battery lights.
There it was HOPE shining brightly on the fence. Everyone who passed by would see it clearly, shining in the darkness. The darker it was the brighter HOPE would shine. Our neighbours know that our hope is in Jesus so the word would point to Him. Not to the vaccine (which we are grateful for) but to Jesus Christ who is the Only Hope for all of life and death.
I’m sure you’ve realized the problem with the lights. Batteries are an unreliable source of power. They do not last long. They fade and then die. Many times, we have looked outside and seen the E shining brightly but the HOP fading or completely out. We have had to change the batteries lots of times. HOP fades and goes out but E shines brightly.
We realize now that the HOPE on the fence doesn’t just proclaim Jesus, but it also asks a question. Here's the question it asks: What’s the source of your hope? Or put differently, what powers your hope?
I write this on New Years Day, a day which offers so much promise. Just last night when we were counting down the seconds we were filled with hope. We had such hope that 2021 would be better than 2020. As I woke this morning, I’m reminded that the only difference between today and yesterday is the change of date. If our hope is powered by the change from 0 to 1 (2020-2021) then our hope will soon fade and then die. You may already have come to that realization. You may already have felt the weakness of last nights hope and are fearful or uncertain about what lies ahead for you and your family. Our hope can fade fast. Our HOPE needs plugged into a greater source. Our hope needs to have its source in Jesus Christ. He is the only One who will see us through 2021 and beyond.
What is the source of your hope? Today would be a great day to connect your hope to Jesus Christ so that your HOPE might shine in the darkness and not fade and die.
Please get in touch with me, I’d love to help you think this through. Happy New Year, Andrew
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn' Fall on your knees, oh, hear the Angels' voices Oh, night divine, oh, night when Christ was born

24 Dec 2020

How to feel Christmassy Everyday

 Christmas has it's own unique magic. Something within our hearts changes at Christmas. We are more generous, joyful and excited than any other time of year. I can think of no other time during the year when there is such a wide spread community transformation. I'm not talking about the external stuff we see like decorations and the Christmas music being played, I'm thinking about what goes on inside of us at Christmas. What we call that Christmassy feeling. That hard to describe joyful emotion that bubbles away deep in your heart. A feeling that flows over into what you wear (colourful jumpers), what you do (buy gifts) and what you expect (others to buy gifts for you).  In many ways we embrace our inner child and begin to see the world differently. Our imagination is reawakened and we allow ourselves to live in a world of unseen beings who want to do good to us. We suspend all logic and dwell happily in the world of elves and Santa and flying reindeers and an impossible task achieved in one night. Save the Children have called their Christmas campaign "Protect the Magic". Their introduction captures something of the Christmassy feeling:

'It is the spirit and imagination of kids that make this such a magical time of year for us all. At Christmas, a carrot can become a snowman’s nose and a chimney is transformed into Santa’s grand entrance. We adults will go to extraordinary lengths to keep the magic alive. And while Christmas might be a bit different for all of us this year, together we can make sure it's as magical as ever.'

They have it right, haven't they? Each year we work hard so we have a magical Christmas. This year it has felt like an uphill battle to bring the magic to life for us and those we love. We believe the battle is worth it to capture that feeling because we enjoy the magic of Christmas. Christmas without feeling Christmassy is just unthinkable. 

But why is that? Why is Christmas cheer so important to us? What is it about that Christmassy feeling that we love?  

Consider this: what if we enjoy the magic of Christmas because it reawakens in us a truth that we have suppressed all year long?

What if the world isn't as mundane as we're led to believe? What if there's more to this world than what you see? What if we live in a world that is mysterious and supernatural. And what if we are beings that have a body and a soul. Could it be that our longings for the magic of Christmas betray us. We say that we are just flesh and bone but our longings reveal in us and to us desires and hopes that go beyond what we are told. They say we are more than highly evolved animals, more than our hormones, more than our genetics. There's a quality about us and our world that can't be defined by science or understood by logic. There's a 'magic' to this world that we suppress from January to November but like a ball held under the water it pops up in December. And we welcome it as a relief from the desolate world we inhabit. A world we have created. A world where we have excluded the supernatural and mysterious. If truth be told we don't really feel alive in that world, it really only feels we are surviving. But at Christmas we really come alive. 
Can that longing ever be fulfilled or are we to live in disappointment waiting for next December? 

NO, NO NO! We don't have to wait, Wizzard's wish has come true. We can have Christmas everyday-not the stresses or expense but the joys and delights.  There is within the Origin of Christmas what CS Lewis called a deep magic. 

Not a superficial, temporary feeling that will be packed away in a few days when the last present is unwrapped BUT a deep and growing joy as we daily unwrap the Gift that God has given us. The gift of His Son. Day by day we get to see more and more of the wonder of Jesus Christ. All that He is, all that's he's done and all that He will do. As we unwrap this Gift we begin to see the world through His eyes. We begin to delight in the world around us as He does. 

The wonder of Christmas is that that the "Word [God] became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14), "That a Saviour has been born to you, he is Christ the Lord...you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger" (Luke 2:11-12).

God the Father is the greatest gift giver. He has given what we need and what our hearts long for. 
"He was in the world and though the world was made through Him the World did not recognise him. He came to that which was his own and his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name he gave the right to become children of God..." (John 1:10-12)

Have you received Jesus? If you have, you have in Him the greatest gift. So great is this gift that it will take a lifetime to fully unwrap and an eternity to enjoy. 

Why not spend a little time over Christmas reading through Luke's Gospel and unwrap God's Greatest Gift.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

11 Nov 2020

It's too early for Christmas Decorations isn't it?

 Is it too early to put up the Christmas decorations? Should we be pulling down the boxes of tinsel from the attic, assembling the tree, putting up the lights? Has anyone else noticed Christmas trees going up in people's homes already?

Now this isn't going to be the annual traditional rant about Christmas beginning too early. I think what we're seeing this year is different from other years. There'll always be a few hardcore Christmas decorators who'll be assembling the tree when the last firework has exploded. But what's going on this year is nearly a movement.
People are calling others to put the decorations up now, don't wait for December. Their reason? It's been a dreary year we need to add sparkle and joy as soon as we can. "With the year we have experienced I’m ready for all the Holiday Cheer".

The hope is our Christmas lights will cut through the darkness that surrounds us. That our baubles, little snowmen and tinsel will dispel the sadness, confusion and drabness of our present world. I really like that notion. It's coming from a good place. A place that recognises that light brightens our dark world. We know that darkness and dreariness brings us down. And it has been so dark. Darker than many of us have ever known. Our winter months seem a more appropriate setting for our present circumstances than the brightness of summer. The cold winter evenings are a better reflection of our world under the curse of a pandemic than balmy summer nights. The external darkness mirrors the darkness we feel inside. We are weary. Weary of restrictions, weary of cleaning, weary of the news. We are fearful. Fearful that we or those we love will get the virus. Fearful that it will come into our home.

Our homes have become our sanctuary. The virus may roam out there but our homes are our place of safety. They have more than ever become our castle. None may enter. They have become our temples. If you are to enter (and only a small select can) you must first be cleansed so that you do not contaminate us.
Into this world we need lights and tinsel and baubles and a big tree. We need lights and sparkle to penetrate the gloom. Christmas lights do lift our spirits. When we see them they have a magical effect upon our hearts. Our eyes can't help but twinkle when we catch a glimpse of a Christmas tree. We connect all things Christmassy with hope and happiness. When we experience sadness at Christmas time, it is more intense. Why? Because we have an inbuilt expectation that Christmas should not be a sad time but a time of joy.

Where does that expectation come from? The cynic would say the retailers work it up to loosen our grip on our money. Or movies create unrealistic expectations, through warm, fuzzy stories. There may be some truth in that but the source of Christmas hope can not be traced back to the High street or Hollywood. It finds it's origin in a promise God gave at the very beginning that a son of Eve would destroy the Serpent.
This is why Christmas lights fill us with hope and joy because there dawned in the world the Great Light that shone into our darkness. If we trace our Christmassy feeling back to it's source we come to a stable in Bethlehem. To a baby who the bible says is the Light of the World. Some may argue that hope can be found elsewhere. Maybe science, or education, or medicine, or family, or... I would ask will the light from these good things burn brightly in the midst of darkness, in the shadow of death or will it be snuffed out? The magic of Christmas fills us with hope because of the miracle of Christmas.

We rob ourselves of so much joy when we limit Christmas to a few short weeks a year. We should suck as much joy and gladness from Christmas as we can. We should lay a Christmas hope deep within us that no darkness or gloom can destroy.
But decorations look tired after a while. What brightens us in November and December can frustrate us if it remains up too long into January. We need a way for the magic of Christmas to continue when the sparkle of lights have grown dim. We need to lay hold on the Light that has dawned as we live in the land of the shadow of death. So get the decoration up and the lights on. And lay hold of Jesus the Great Light that truly cuts through all darkness and gloom.

20 Oct 2020

Jesus and the Conspiracy Theorist

Who was behind the assassination of JFK? What is really happening in Area 51? Are there sinister forces behind the Coronavirus pandemic? Is compulsory mask wearing the thin edge of the wedge that will lead to the mark of the beast?

Questions like these would normally be discussed by people on the fringes but now these questions are centre stage. The anxiety of the pandemic and the new restrictions have definitely encouraged conspiracy theories to develop. But they were centre stage way before 2020.

I guess this is linked to the decline in trust people have for in those in authority. We listen to our politicians and assume we're not being told everything. We're being kept in the dark. We're now more aware than maybe ever before that our news comes with a bias. More of us than ever believe that those in authority can't be trusted. They have an agenda that isn't always for our good.

Growing up I loved reading about UFO sightings, the moon landings, corn circles, JFK etc. It fascinated me that these theories existed and people passionately held to them. But these ideas (when I was younger) could only be found in a few books in the library, now they are spread much more freely on the internet. If the X Files (Google it) were written for our day, Muller and Scully wouldn't be risking their lives tracking down the truth in the 'field' but they'd be following the bread crumbs left by QAnon on the internet.

And the truth seems to be that the "fate of the world hangs in the balance". It is unknown whether good or evil will win.

I'm not going to ridicule those searching for the truth because I think they're on to something. I agree with them there's more to the world than what we see (Ephesians 6:12), there are sinister forces at work behind the scenes plotting for our downfall (1 Peter 5:8) and there are hidden truths that need to be revealed (Matthew 11:25-27). But I think there's a glaring hole in their theories.

In their search for truth, conspiracy theorists have forgotten that Jesus is Lord. He is the one who is in control of the story of our world and he will bringing it to the ending that he has planned. I realise that this is a statement of faith that not everyone will agree with. But it is a statement that if researched with even half the diligence of the conspiracists, will be be shown to be true. It has stood up to centuries of scrutiny both by the genuine seeker and the sceptic. God has not left breadcrumbs for us to follow but clear historical eye witness accounts of those that seen and heard and touched Jesus (1 John 1:1-4).

Peter one of the men closes to Jesus writes,

"For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honour and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain." (2 Peter 1v16-18)

Of course we weren't there when Peter saw this so how can we know if this is true or not. Peter says we have something even more secure..

"And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in our hearts. Above all you must understand that no prophecy of scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had it's origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." (2 Peter 1v19-21)

The world is full of unusual happenings, some may well be linked together, some are unexplained at the minute, some may never be explained. But whatever theory we develop to explain life as we see it may we always filter it through the reality that Jesus Christ is Lord. If you don't believe that, follow the evidence, it will take you right to Jesus. The Truth is Out there. Why not grab the Gospel of Luke and start reading it?


1 Oct 2020

Jesus speaks to those that feel judged

 The great dream of our time is that we become a more tolerant society, less judgemental and more accepting. The church was identified as a source of intolerance. (there may be some truth in that). It was argued that once the church's influence upon society was weakened, we would all become more accepting and less judgemental. But that has not been the case.

We continue to live in a world where we're told what's acceptable and what's not:
what's acceptable to say, what's acceptable to do and even what's acceptable to think. We are just as likely to be judged by others as ever before. And if we're willing to admit it, we're just as likely to judge others too. All that has changed is the standard by which we are to judge others and who establishes that standard.
I was in a shop a few weeks ago and an unmasked woman hurried past me explaining apologetically, with her hand over her mouth, that she had forgotten her mask and was going to get it. She had taken part in unacceptable behaviour (not wearing a mask in a shop) and was feeling judged because if it. Haven't we all felt judged by others? The way we look, the way we act, the way we speak, the way we dress, the opinions we hold. By these and a long list of other things, we are deemed unacceptable by others. Once we step outside the norms of the group we fall under the group's judgement. We might be snubbed or excluded or ridiculed.
When you feel judged by others, how do you react? Do you hide away from their glare Or do you stiffen your back, stand tall and defy anyone to question you. "Who are you to judge me?"

Jesus inspires a better way to deal with the judgement of others. We see it clearly in the woman who walked into a dinner party uninvited. (Luke 7: 36-50)
As she enters the dinner party, she feels a room full of eyes burning into her. She's being judged. This isn't a new feeling, she's well used to this. She's known around town as having a reputation. She's not spoken about in polite conversation and yet here she is standing behind Jesus, who was reclined at the table. She seems to know him. This is how reputations are damaged.
  • How do they know each other?
  • Why's she crying?
  • Why's she drying his tear soaked feet with her hair?
  • Why's she now kissing his feet?
  • Doesn't he know the kind of woman she is (39)?
  • She must know him well.
  • What's she up to, pouring perfume on his feet?
Then the realisation, these aren't tears of sadness these are tears of deep joy. Something has happened to her. Something that no one seems to know about but Jesus. He explains to those judging her. "Her many sins have been forgiven..." (47). Then turning to the woman he says "Your faith has saved you; go in peace" (50)
Jesus doesn't turn a blind eye to her life of sin. He judges rightly by God's standard. But she now knows her debts before God are wiped out because of her faith in Jesus (41-42). She is forgiven and at peace. She seems totally oblivious to what others in that room think of her. Why? Because she knows what Jesus thinks of her. She's not arrogant before others, "Who are you lot to judge me?" but humble before others, "Who am I to be forgiven by Jesus?"
The woman is forgiven and free. What does it matter what others think.

I could be proven wrong but I'm not sure a tolerant society is possible. But won't it be great to be part of a society shaped not by judgement but by forgiveness. To be part of a group of people forgiven and forgiving. If only there existed a society like that. If there was one like that, wouldn't you want to go regularly to bask with others in God's acceptance and be reminded of the wonderful forgiveness that is yours because of Jesus. Wouldn't there be a fragrance of love about that place. Those forgiven much love much.

16 Sept 2020

Jesus speaks to the Racist

 The White Knights of the Klu Klux Klan in the 1960s were "described by the FBI as the most violent right-wing terrorist organization in America". 

They murdered, bombed and terrorised in Mississippi, pouring their hatred upon all involved in the Civil Right movement.
We like to think we live in a more civilised time but racial tension still exists as the summer has shown.
We in Dromara might feel removed from all that's going on in the big cities but we mustn't fool ourselves in thinking that hatred towards others doesn't reside in our hearts too.
Hatred and disdain towards an other person because they're part of a certain group is not a new phenomenon. It's found all through human history and across every culture. If we can separate our world into "Us" and "Them" we have the perfect breeding ground for racism.

It's clear from encounters Jesus had with others and stories he told that he had a lot to say about hatred towards "Them".
Isn't that the very root of racism? Wherever we sit in the spectrum of racism (and we all sit somewhere and probably not as far down the scale as we'd like to think), if we can identify a "Them" we are at the starting gate for hatred towards them. From our lofty position we look down on them. We see them as less than us. Therefore 'they' don't deserve our respect. We devalue them. Show indifference and contempt towards them. Hatred spews from our angry hearts.
Both the cold anger of contempt and the hot fury of violence towards the other are destroying our communities.

We want to ask: how would Jesus answer the issue of racism? What did he say when he came across someone who had a hatred for another person? A hatred for the individual just because of their skin colour or their cultural background? His response will help us to think through our own response to our hatred towards 'them'.

Jesus in his story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) turns racism on it's head. The hated one becomes the hero. 

The story is told by Jesus to answer the question, Who is my Neighbour? That question had been asked by a man that wanted to make himself look good. It seems the man wasn't much different from you and me. He wanted to establish a narrow group of people just like himself that he was to love. He had just summarised the second half of God's Law as saying "Love your neighbour as yourself" but he wanted to put borders on that love. "I should love those just like me but not "Them".

Jesus' answer isn't what we'd expect. He didn't tell a story of "Us" stepping over the border to show love and compassion to "Them". No, Jesus' story and point was more powerful than that. In the Story of the Good Samaritan it's "Them" that shows love to "Us".
By doing this Jesus;
1. Humanises "Them"- It's the Samaritan that shows compassion to the one beaten up at the roadside. He's the Hero of the story. He's the one we're cheering. Samaritan's were hated by the Jews. The Jews saw the Samaritans as less than them. But in Jesus story the hated becomes the hero.
2. Unseats "Us" -we are removed from the centre and placed at the margins. No longer in the place of power but helpless at the side of the road and in need. To make matter worse our help doesn't come from our own kind but from them.
Jesus questioner recognised the merciful love that was shown. And Jesus told him to go and do likewise. Go and show that merciful love to all regardless of cultural background, skin colour or position.

But Jesus' story goes beyond who is my neighbour, it addresses the initial question the man asked. "What must I do to inherit eternal life"
Tom Tarrant's discovered the answer to that question while serving a 30 year sentence in Mississippi State Penitentiary as a leader within the White Knights of the KKK. 
He had for many years been consumed by hatred but as he read the gospels in solitary confinement he discovered that through faith in Jesus he was redeemed by love.
The Public Prosecutor at Tom's trial was sent by J Edgar Hoover (the head of the FBI) to investigate the reported change of this KKK member. A few weeks after visiting Tom in Prison, the prosecutor, himself became a Christian such was the change he saw in Tom. Nothing but the truth of Jesus could explain the transformation he saw in that prison cell.
On release from prison Tom Tarrant became a champion of racial reconciliation. And that's what you find him doing now as President of the CS Lewis Institute. (He tells his story in Consumed by Hate, Redeemed by Love- I can't wait to read it)
Tom's life reminds us that Jesus's words don't just inform the racist of another way they transform a heart and life bend on hatred to one who loves all with a merciful love.
What would "Go and do likewise" look for you?

[Photo by John Cameronon Unsplash]

The video below for Solas-cpc.orglooks a bit deeper into Racism. This is where I first heard about Tom Tarrant. 

25 Aug 2020

The latest blog after a few weeks break. A dark question that has been pushed to the front of our minds. Is death the end?

 Is there life beyond the grave? 

We are finishing the four questions that I began at the start of June. I wanted to suggest four questions that probe at our view of the world. We've looked at the question of our origin here. The question of our morality here and the question of our significance here.

We now ask the really dark question. Is death final? Is it the full stop of our lives? This is the question we can't escape. Though we might try to distract ourselves from the reality of death, it always forces itself into our lives. 

The belief of our secular age is that there is no life after death. We are simply physical beings. Life is just what you can see. Death is final. Yet this belief cannot suppress a deeper innate belief that we are eternal. We continue on beyond our death. There is life after death. We may disagree about what that life looks like but it seems we have a belief that won't go away. Life doesn't end with death. 

On paper it might seem everyone lives like this is all the life there is (You're born, you live, you die, the end) but our belief that death is not the end surfaces at the Graveside and in our Stories.


The Graveside

At the rawest moments of our lives we find it near impossible to maintain the confidence that this world is all there is. We may have lived under that assumption all our lives but it cracks under the weight of grief. At funerals we hear people saying things like, "They're in a better place" "They're up there looking down on us" or "We'll see them again". And this is not simply a remnant of a Christian past, it's found in all cultures across all time. The teacher in Ecclesiastes says God has hidden eternity in the heart of man (3:11) and experience seems to bear that out. 


Our Stories

It seems our story telling is very telling. It reveals what we really believe. Think of the movies and books that tell of a life beyond the grave. Of course you find it in the Horror stories where the veil between this world and the next is very thin, but you also have it within Romance (eg.Ghost, The Lovely Bones) and Thrillers (eg. The Sixth Sense). It seems our story telling betrays our hearts. We have a hope that there's something more. It doesn't seem right in our minds that death should be the end. It doesn't seem enough for us that this is all there is. We long for something more. Now, just because we long for something doesn't mean there is something more. But what if death isn't the end? It's a question worth asking isn't it?


Therefore our 4th question is: What happens after death? 


If you say "nothing happens after death". I want you to listen into the hopes that you have. The hopes that are revealed at the grave side and in the stories you enjoy. Are your hopes consistent with your stated beliefs? 

God hasn't just set eternity in our hearts, he has prepared a glorious eternity for us in Jesus. When we trust in Jesus, we no longer have to face the judgement that we dread but instead receive the Life that we long for. 

"Jesus Christ who has destroyed death and brought life and immorality to light through the gospel" (2 Timothy 1:10)

In this blog I've dealt with death as a challenge to our worldview but I know it's much more than that. It causes huge pain and suffering for those left behind. If that is you and you'd like someone to talk to, please get in touch. I can be contacted on 2nd Dromara Presbyterian Church Facebook page or my mobile 07512677530. Thank you, Andrew