Spiritual Restlessness

Some quotes get more mileage than others, but one that I have often heard quoted is one from The Confessions of St. Augustine of Hippo which says, “my heart is restless until it rests in you”.  Most of the time this is used to talk conversion and finding rest in Christ at conversion.  But for […]

Achieving Greatness

I must confess that I’m not sleeping well.  I thought that the older I got the better sleeper I would be, but that has proved false.  Here lately I’ve been waking up at 3am and venturing off to the living room sofa to try and get back to sleep.  It’s having less than desirable effects for getting back to sleep, so, to help, the iPad and Netflix have been coming with me to the sofa.

One night this week I watched Good Will Hunting and a couple of nights ago I watched Suits.  I couldn’t help but notice that the main characters of both were essentially one and the same.  Will Hunting, a troubled youngster from South Boston who is the next Einstein, and Michael Ross, the troubled youngster from NYC with a photographic memory and the potential to think his way out of difficult situations.  Both shows are not wholesome, and it would seem to me that neither is particularly well written, but for some reason, both ‘super-genius’ characters are strangely appealing.  What is it about these characters, then, that fascinate us so?

Both super smart kids exude a sense of greatness.  Sure, both come from the gutter, but their potential is surely endless.  Through their gifts and with the right direction and mentoring, you come away with the feeling that they will become truly great.  And society today is certainly obsessed with greatness.  It has probably always been this way for it strikes at the heart of something that lies in all our hearts…the desire to be truly great.  If ‘escape’ is the foundation of all entertainment, then watching shows depicting great people with great minds allows us to maybe live a little vicariously through all of these.  Because let’s face it, how many of us will ever attain true greatness in this life?  Whether it’s mathematics, or law, or sport, or fill in the blank; most of us will probably never attain to it no matter how hard we try.

This desire for true greatness and the realization that it will never be possible for me in work, life, family, etc. is one of the most appealing things for me about the Gospel.  The Gospel stares each one of us in the face and tells us that we will never attain to anything close to true greatness.  The standard is simply too high and the gifts we’ve been given will never get us anywhere close to accomplishing what we so desperately desire.  You see, the Gospel says to us that there’s only one person who is truly great.  That man’s name is Jesus Christ.  How is he truly great?  Two ways.

First, we see true greatness in Jesus’ life.  He attained a standard that nobody before him and that nobody since has ever achieved.  Time and time again Jesus resisted the temptation to sin and thus kept God’s perfect standard of righteousness, perfectly.  Second, Jesus died a perfect death.  Okay, it wasn’t perfect from a worldly standard.  In fact, it was quite the opposite when viewed from those eyes; wrongly accused, poorly defended in court, sentenced unjustly, and killed by the cruelest method ever invented, crucifixion.  But it was a perfect death in that it atoned for all our sin.  And so, in both ways Jesus attained true greatness.  And this is very good news.

This means that the only way that you or I can become truly great is by being connected to Jesus.  By faith, we can do just that.  When I put my trust in Him, I am claiming his righteousness, his greatness, and not my own.  And thus, the longing of my own heart is fulfilled in Christ, and only in Him.  But also, all those times I’ve strived for my own greatness and failed, those times have been taken away.  My sin has been paid for in full in Christ.  His great death was my great salvation.  His great life is my great life.  And by his truly great power, I have the power to become greater and greater.  Praise be the Lord!

Can I Trust the Bible?

One of my favorite scenes from The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe is near the end where Aslan returns to Cair Paravel and begins to bring to life those creatures whom the White Witch had turned to stone.  He does it in a most interesting way, by breathing onto them.  What the author is doing is borrowing from the Bible where God’s breath brings life.

I used to live in Baltimore, MD near the top research hospital in the world, Johns Hopkins.  Occasionally you’d get a report from someone as to the latest development in medical technology.  Before I left I can remember talking to a researcher who was telling me about microscopic robots they were developing that could be injected into a patient to help make repairs to the body.  It truly is remarkable how advanced the medical field is today, and yet there’s one thing that they cannot achieve, and that is bringing someone back from the dead.  Sure, you can take those paddles and shock someone’s heart back into beating, but that’s merely maintaining life when it actually does work.  I’m talking about creating life.  It cannot be done through medical technology.  There is no Frankensteinesque technology that can create life in dead creatures.

Going back to Scripture we read that, “the LORD God formed the man of the dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature (Genesis 2:7).”  God creates life by breathing life into his greatest creation.  This is the only way that previously dead objects can be brought to life, is if God breathes life into them.  In Ezekiel 37, God brings the prophet Ezekiel into a valley of dead, dry bones and God asks him, “Can these dry bones live again?”.  The answer is telling.  God commands Ezekiel to preach to these bones and, “Behold, I (God) will cause breath to enter you and you shall live.  And I will lay sinews upon you and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you and you shall life, and you shall know that I am the LORD.”  It’s God’s breath, and only his breath, that gives life.

When we come to the New Testament we see in 2 Timothy 3:16 that, “all Scripture is God breathed”.  God’s Word, the Bible, therefore is a living word.  It’s alive, in that it gives life to dead and broken human beings like you and me.  So, the Bible is true because God breathes life into it and therefore is true because God says it is true.  If you search it’s pages, you’ll find that it bears the marks of life.  So, what are they?

1. The Bible teaches us about Jesus. The four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) teach us about Jesus life, death, and resurrection.  They record for us Jesus teaching about life and about how to have greater life.  You can find this nowhere else.

2. Jesus teaches us about the Bible. On the road to Emmaus in Luke 24, Jesus sits his disciples down, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all Scriptures the things concerning himself.”  Jesus is the central character in Scripture.  It’s all about him.  This has always been God’s plan; that we would have Jesus and in him have eternal life.  It only comes from Jesus.

3. Scripture grates on us. Whenever my child gets a cut I always run to the medicine cabinet and get that big plastic bottle of rubbing alcohol.  They usually cry and plead with me not to put it on their cut because they know how much it burns.  But this is the way that you stave off infection and therefore preserve life.  In similar fashion, the Scriptures serve as a similar burning preservative of spiritual life.  There are parts of the Bible that we’re not all that comfortable with, and there are those passages that we flat out don’t like because of what they tell us about ourselves.  I think that it’s these sorts of passages that actually prove the reliability of the Scriptures.  Have you ever had a friend who was always affirming of everything you did, good or bad?  They’re not a friend at all if they’re affirming things that are bad or harmful to you.  Some kick against the reliability of Scripture because of what all the things they don’t want to hear, but, these are probably the things that we need to hear…the things that sting.

 

The Bible is true because God says it is true, and we can trust it because of that.  It is he that gives it life and so we trust it because of that too.  But more than all of that, it tells us about who Jesus is, and once we start to grasp that then we can begin a relationship with him, and as our trust in him grows so does our trust in God’s word, the Bible.

Proof that God Exists

There are many external arguments for the existence of God.  Some point to the fact that our universe is in motion and that that begs the question of who put it into motion?  Some point to the intricacy of design in things like DNA and see that it points to an intelligent designer.  There are teleological arguments, cosmological arguments, moral arguments, and on and on it goes.  All of these are helpful on some level, but I want to look at what I’m going to call ‘internal arguments’ for the existence of God.  In other words, those things that go bump in the night; the things inside even the surest skeptics heart and head that just cannot be swept away.

The first internal proof for the existence of God is that we all are born with an internal sense of right and wrong.  For instance, most of us will agree that murder is wrong.  Maybe in extreme circumstances it can be justified like in certain self defense scenarios or in war, but in general, the taking of human life, we can agree, is wrong.  Things like child abuse, sexual abuse, or animal cruelty seem to be other instances where we see this internal sense of right and wrong coming through in all of us.  It isn’t something that is geographical, that is, folks in Brazil know it’s wrong just the same as those in Siberia or Uganda know these things are wrong.  It’s not something that is merely culturally conditioned either; Japanese culture views child abuse the same as Indian culture does…that it’s wrong.  So where did these moral senses come from?  The answer is that we were all born as moral creatures.  God has endowed us with an internal sense of right and wrong.  We don’t have to look any further than Genesis 1 to see that God created a moral universe because God is a moral God.  He declares what is right and good, not us.  So, it is imperative of us that we seek to learn his standards and to strive to keep them.

Secondly, I would argue that everyone who has ever lived has an inner desire to love and to be loved.  Even from our earliest days we seek to be loved by our mothers and fathers.  This is part of the reason why those Save the Children ads are so hard to view on our televisions.  We see an impoverished child who isn’t being loved well and we desire to show love to him/her.  We have an innate desire to show love.  This is why most of us succumb to the pressure to be at home with family during the holiday season.  And this is the ultimate reason why we do what we do with our lives.  University students are encouraged to “do what you love to do” when it comes to career choices.  Little children are encouraged to love their parents and siblings.  And when they’re old enough, they seek to fall in love and be married.  One of the saddest things I’ve experienced in recent memory was talking to an old lady at my church who had been married for over 70 years to the same man.  Her husband had died earlier this year and with tearful eyes she told me how, “it just wasn’t the same without him here,” and that she felt, “incomplete,” now that he was gone.  Why is it that love is such a powerful thing?  And why is it that we all desire it, pursue after it, and seek to show it?  Because we creatures created to be loved ourselves.

In Hosea 11:1-4, the prophet uses a very moving analogy in speaking about God’s love for his people.  Hosea compares God to a loving father teaching his child to walk.  He says,

“1 When Israel was a child, I loved him,

and out of Egypt I called my son.

2 The more they were called,

the more they went away;

they kept sacrificing to the Baals

and burning offerings to idols.

3 Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk;

I took them up by their arms,

but they did not know that I healed them.

4 I led them with cords of kindness,

with the bands of love…”

Looking at just these few verses, we see the perfect answers to both internal longings in our hearts and minds.  We desire justice in this world of ours, and we desire love.  God provides both of these things, and he gives them perfectly.  God not only gives us his law (right and wrong, defined and applied), but he gives us his love to boot.  Both are summed up perfectly in the life and death of God’s only son.

Jesus last words on the cross were, “it is finished”.  He said this because it was his life’s work to keep God’s moral law and to keep it perfectly.  He succeeded!  So, by embracing Jesus by faith, you are claiming a righteousness that is not your own.  So, when you stand before God in judgement, it’s Christ’s righteousness that you claim and not your own.  You no longer have to try and be good in order to earn God’s favor, and you no longer have to fear that all the wrongs that you’ve committed will keep you from God.  Jesus has done it all!

In the same way, Christ’s death on the cross proves his great love for you.  John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”  Jesus proves his love for you in doing this for you in the most inhumane death anyone could have ever died.  You look to the cross and you know that you are loved beyond measure.  And it’s this love then that redefines how we are loved and how we show love to others.

Why Should I Believe in God?

I’ve been very blessed to have ministered now in two different countries: the United States of America and Northern Ireland.  Both countries could hardly be described as “unchurched”.  Both could probably be best described as “Christ-haunted landscapes”, to steal a term from Flannery O’Connor.  So, to travel around either of these countries you will see church buildings nearly everywhere you go.  Furthermore, to talk to your average American or Irishman, you quickly learn that they are staunchly ‘theistic’ in their outlook.  That is to say, there is some belief in God embedded somewhere in their psyche.  So when you look at both of these societies and the backsliding and moral failing that typifies them, you begin to realize that the reason for this is not that they lack evidence for God’s existence.  So the question that most Americans and Irish seem to be asking is not, “Is there a god?”, but rather, “Why should I believe in God?”.  These are two radically different questions.  For most, then, it is a matter of why.  Let us try and answer this question, “Why should I believe in God?”.

First, a person should believe in God because he is the source of all knowledge and understanding.  My seven-year-old son helped me make pancakes over the weekend.  Per usual, the questions began to fly.  “What ingredients do we use?”.  “Why do you use baking powder?”. “What does it do?”.  Once the standard questions were asked (and barely answered), then the more challenging questions arose… “Where does baking powder come from?”.  “Where do you get eggs from?”.  “How is flour made?”.  These were much more difficult for me to ask.  Finally, the existential questions came… “Where did chickens come from?”.  “How does heat change the dough from liquid to a solid?”.  All these final set of questions stumped their imaginative dad.  Like children, humans are curious beings.  We want to know; we must know things.  We must know because it helps us to make sense of the world we are living in.  Now, most of us are okay not having answers to the bigger questions of the existence of pancakes, but when it comes to things like love, life, contentment, and meaning, well then it becomes less okay to have fuzzy answers.

Belief, not just in God, but the God of the Bible gives us the source of all life and knowledge and therefore provides us with deeper knowledge about the deeper things of life, like love.  1 John 4:8 tells us that, “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”  God’s greatest act of love is the giving of his Son, Jesus Christ to be an atonement for our sin.  Nobody can do what Jesus did in giving his life in this way, but even by looking at this act we can see that love is an act of giving, not of taking.  This is fundamentally different from what is being taught and what is being modeled in our world today.  Imagine if your society today put this into practice, that we are to give freely of ourselves to love our fellow man?  The world would be a much better place.  So, God is the source of all true knowledge and understanding.

Second, belief in the God of the Bible gives us a proper scope for how we are to view ourselves and how we are to view our world.  It’s a matter of perspective.  Belief in God puts man in his rightful place.  We are not all powerful, we are not all knowing, and we are not ultimately in control.  Now that does not mean that we are to throw all caution to the wind and live carelessly; quite the opposite in fact.  Knowing that I am not all-powerful should humble me.  It should take away all my pride and make me humble.  And when we are humble, we tend to get out of our own way and generally good things start to happen.  I’m saying the word “should” a lot because it’s the constant struggle we all must face daily, that God is in control and not me.  This is the scope of the Christian’s life, and it makes things a lot clearer when we live humbly before God’s all-powerful existence.

Finally, belief in the God of the Bible gives us a sense of direction.  Most of us really hate it when someone tells us what we MUST do with our lives.  As a young teenager I really resented that, and to be honest, as a 38-year-old I still sometimes resent that today.  But if God is the source of all knowledge and understanding, and if he gives our lives the proper scope, then we are obligated to follow what he has said about how we live our lives.  We need to be thankful and willing to follow him.  And here’s the thing, when we do allow God to give our lives a sense of direction, we do become better.  The book of Hebrews describes God as our father and calls us his sons (and daughters).  “And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.  For the Lord disciples the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives (Hebrews 12:4-6).”  So, we can say that God not only is love, but that he loves.  He loves us.  He loves you.  Therefore, the direction that he takes you and leads you is always right.  You can trust him because he loves you.  And because he loves you, you can and will love him back.  It’s a lifetime process learning to love God, but it gets better and sweeter with time.  Look to God, learn to trust him, and live your life for him.

What Now for Ireland?

“Then I, Daniel, was exhausted and sick for days. Then I got up again and carried on the king’s business… (Daniel 8:27)”

 

 

When I went to bed last night the country where I’m a citizen, Ireland, greatly protected the lives of the unborn.  This morning they do not.  The headlines are pretty in your face about it too; apparently it was a ‘landslide victory’.  But who really wins here?  It most certainly is not the unborn children.  And from counselling I’ve done over the years with women who have had abortions, I can tell you as well that this is not a victory for women, women’s rights, or feminism.  Nobody wins.

 

So where do we go from here?  What is the Christian’s response to this terrible news?  We look to the Scriptures to find these answers and find them in an unusual place.  In Daniel 8 we find the man of God in a pretty familiar position.  He’s alone, in a foreign land, and he’s afraid of the consequences of news he’s just received.  Through a series of visions God communicates to Daniel that his home country of Israel is going to be subject to great uncertainty and turmoil in the next 400 years.  In days to come they can expect the Persians, the Greeks, and worst of all a wicked and appalling ruler named Antiochus Epiphanes.  Not the news that Daniel wanted to hear.  But in Daniel’s reaction to this terrible news, we can learn how we can react to what Irish voters have just done.

 

  1. We Mourn

Daniel was sick.  He didn’t celebrate the bad news.  In similar fashion, he didn’t lash out and try and stage a massive protest.  He mourned.  This is a day of mourning for Ireland.  We have violated God’s law in landslide manner, and there will be a landslide of repercussions for doing so.  Mourn!

 

The pictures are quite saddening coming out of this vote.  There’s the Irish News that in its online report has the picture of a young girl who is exuberant in the streets holding up a sign and celebrating.  There’s Taoiseach Leo Varadkar posing for a picture as he casts his vote donning a cheeky grin.  No, this is not a day for rejoicing and it’s not a day for garnering cheap political publicity, it’s a day to mourn.  It’s a time for weeping.

 

  1. We Continue to Pray

Daniel was a man of prayer.  The entire book of Daniel this is Daniel’s main posture is he’s praying.  In chapter 10 we see that Daniel does not return to the Promised Land after the Exile is over (probably he was too old for the journey), but instead he lives out his days in Babylon and he prays.  Prayer changes Christians. Prayer takes the unchanging, unending promises of God and moves them from the head to the heart.  This is where they become solidified and turned into bedrock.  We then take these bedrocks and begin to build our lives upon them.  So that even when the winds of life and social change blow hard against us, we will not be moved because we know deep down who God is and what he has done for us his children.

 

Who is this God we pray to?  He’s the one who promised us that he’d never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).  And we look to the cross and see the depths of this promise.  Who is God?  He’s the one who sent his only son Jesus to the cross so that we might be forgiven and that we might know the eternal love that he has for his children.  That is your bedrock.  That is your foundation.

 

And we now have a new prayer to pray.  It is a prayer of repentance.  We now cry out to God for mercy for our land.  We now cry out for mercy for our people.  For those young women who find themselves in a position where they feel pressure to destroy the person living inside of them.  And we pray that we would be understanding and loving with those who follow through with this terrible act on Irish soil.

 

  1. We Continue to Trust.

Daniel got up and went about his business.  Daniel, once again, walks the walk.  And so do we.  Times have changed.  This is the new Ireland in which we all now live.  What do we do, we mourn, we pray, and we carry on with our labours.  Whatever God has called you to do today, you do it to the best of your ability and in ways that bring the maximum amount of glory to God.  And you continue to speak the truth in love to whomever you meet today.  That’s your duty as a Christian.  John Wesley was asked by a man one day, “Mr. Wesley, if you were to die this time tomorrow, what would you do in the remaining twenty-four hours?” He pulled out his itinerary in his pocket, he read it to the man and he said, “That is what I would do.” He would do his duty. Until the Lord came again.  We will do the same.

Does Ireland Need Abortion OR Does Abortion Need Ireland???

The stage is set, and all foreseeable road blocks have been removed for the repeal of Ireland’s 8th Amendment which currently protects the lives of unborn babies.  And given the current cultural trends, I think it would be remarkable if this referendum did NOT go the way of the pro-abortion advocates.

 

So why are pro-abortion lobby groups giving hundreds of thousands of euros to fund this repeal campaign?  The answers go deeper than you might think.  First, having a country like Ireland that is predominantly Roman Catholic suddenly change its mind on something like abortion is good for advertising, as the gay rights lobby groups found out in 2015.  Second, it’s not just public relations campaigns and funding that comes into play here.  The issue goes deeper still.  It traces its way all the way back to the foundations of morality and how we determine what is right and what is wrong.

 

The Bible begins in a very interesting way.  God gives us a day by day narrative of how he created the world.  His pattern goes something like this:  God creates, then God declares it good (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31).  This declaration of good is extremely significant because it shows us that God creates a moral universe.  In other words, God builds into his creation a standard of right and wrong.  Humans, being a part of God’s creation, have the same standard of right and wrong built into our psyche.

 

Hebrews 10:16 says, ““This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds…”.  No matter how hard we try, we can never get away from this inherent knowledge of right and wrong.  But we do try…and oh how we do try to justify our own self-made standards of right and wrong.  Abortion cannot be both right and wrong at the same time.  It must be one or the other, but never both and never neither. So, the question becomes, “what does God say?”.  And God says that every human life, great or small, is sacred (see Gen. 1:26-27).  Therefore, the preservation of human life is right, and the destruction of human life is wrong.  Ireland does not need abortion.

 

But abortion needs Ireland.  Yes, it will become a pivotal advertising pawn for the pro-abortion advocates if the 8th Amendment is repealed, but even more significantly, it will help ease the guilty minds and consciences of pro-abortionists worldwide.  Romans 2:15 says, “They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them…”.  You can suppress your conscience for a while, but that’s the best that you can do.

 

I once read about a baseball field that was build over an old landfill where old tyres had been buried.  These beautiful new facilities served the local community well for several years.  But after a while the players began missing routine balls hit to them.  Baseballs, which normally bounced routinely on the beautifully manicured surface, suddenly began bouncing wildly out of control.  You see, after several years of freeze and thaw these old tyres had eventually worked their way up to the surface and completely ruined the once beautiful playing surface.  The human conscience is very similar to these buried tyres.  You can try and bury what God says is good.  You can even build up something utopian over top of it that boasts freedom and choice.  But eventually, God’s standard of right and wrong comes back to haunt the person suppressing God’s truth.

 

Pro-abortion groups need Ireland’s unborn to die because as long as Ireland’s legal code reflects God’s law, it reminds them that they are wrong.  And their guilty consciences can’t handle that.  The consequences are too great for them, for they long to be at peace with themselves, but that peace will never come as long as they rebel against God’s law.

 

Ultimately, the fight to repeal the 8th Amendment isn’t about choice, it’s about peace of conscience.  And it won’t matter if every country in the world says that abortion is right, you will never escape what God has created you to be.  You can never erase what he has written upon your heart.  Abortion is wrong, period!  Vote “NO” to repealing the 8th Amendment.

Musings on Life in the Glens of Antrim (part 2)

Ireland is now our home.  For how long, we don’t know; as long as God determines it will be is the ultimate answer.  But until then, we long to learn, understand, and be of service to our neighbors here.  My family and I moved here 9 months ago from the United States and have set up residence in an area known as the Glens, along the coast of Co. Antrim.  This is a series of 9 valleys that run along the Northeastern shore of the island.  We are currently living in Glencloy and are working in Glenballyeamon.  It’s a very beautiful part of the world, but along with its outstanding natural beauty, there are many challenges that lie ahead for us.  This is my vain attempt at trying to better understand these challenges.

 

I bring to this an American perspective on it all; I make no attempt to cover up these sensibilities.  American life and culture is all I have known until now, so that’s the lens through which I will be filtering my observations.  I’m an outsider, which means my views will be immediately written off by some.  Be that as it may, I still believe that an outside perspective can be helpful.  It means my views, observations, and opinions have not been influenced by the local customs and cultures, hopefully making it fresher and less biased than some.  It’s incomplete, I fully admit that, but hopefully it’s growing in truth and love.

 

Secondly, I bring a Christian perspective.  Worldview is something that we all have, and I pray that mine is one that seeks to see things through Christ’s accomplished work.  Christ is my ultimate good, and this influences everything, even how I view the customs and culture of Ireland.  So as I embark on this project, I am also praying that what I say brings glory and honor to Christ Jesus.  And that from these observations and thoughts, I will be more humble and effective for service in his kingdom here in Northern Ireland.

 

We’re going to take several weeks to assess these observations.  We’ll start by taking a bird’s eye view of the nation’s history.  Next we’ll take a look at her People and her Culture.  We will then look at present day Ireland (Modern Times) before finally making some Conclusions.  Pray for me if you’re reading this.  It’s hard being away from family and friends.  But we believe that God has us here for a reason, and we are trusting in him to show us how to do it.  Ultimately it’s God we need to move and so it’s God we stand and wait for; and He will, in His time.

Musings on Life in the Glens of Antrim (part 1)

The Glens of Antrim are now our home.  For how long, we don’t know; as long as God determines it will be is the ultimate answer.  But until then, we long to learn, understand, and be of service to our neighbors here.  My family and I moved here 9 months ago from the United States and have set up residence in an area known as ‘The Glens,’ along the coast of County Antrim.  This is a series of 9 valleys that run along the north-eastern shore of the island.  We are currently living in Glencloy, and are working in Glenballyeamon.  It’s a very beautiful part of the world, but along with its outstanding natural beauty, there are many challenges that lie ahead for us.  This is my vain attempt at trying to better understand these challenges.

 

I bring to this an American perspective on it all; I make no attempt to cover up these sensibilities.  American life and culture is all I have known until now, so that’s the lens through which I will be filtering my observations.  I’m an outsider, which means my views will be immediately written off by some.  Be that as it may, I still believe that an outside perspective can be helpful.  It means my views, observations, and opinions have not been influenced by the local customs and cultures, hopefully making it fresher and less biased than some.  It’s incomplete, I fully admit that, but hopefully it’s growing in truth and love.

 

Secondly, I bring a Christian perspective.  Worldview is something that we all have, and I pray that mine is one that seeks to see things through Christ’s accomplished work.  Christ is my ultimate good, and this influences everything, even how I view the customs and culture of The Glens.  So as I embark on this project, I am also praying that what I say brings glory and honor to Christ Jesus.  And that from these observations and thoughts, I will be more humble and effective for service in his kingdom here in Northern Ireland.

 

We’re going to take several weeks to assess these observations.  We’ll start by taking a bird’s eye view of the nation’s history.  Next we’ll take a look at her People and her Culture.  We will then look at present day Northern Ireland (Modern Times) before finally making some Conclusions.  Pray for me if you’re reading this.  It’s hard being away from family and friends.  But we believe that God has us here for a reason, and we are trusting in him to show us how to do it.  Ultimately it’s God we need to move and so it’s God we stand and wait for; and He will, in His time.

TGIM

TGIM

I remember a story of a seminary professor who used to come in every Monday morning and would write TGIM on the chalkboard in big block letters.  This acronym stood for, “Thank God It’s Monday”.  It stood in direct opposition to the popular (and worldly) expression of TGIF, or “Thank God It’s Friday”.  It’s an expression that is so common in our world today that there’s even a popular restaurant chain in America simply known as TGI Friday’s.  It reveals to us that we have a rather warped view of work in our day and age, and sadly, this view has found it’s way into our churches.  Here’s what it means for most Christians…

  1. Like the rest of the world, we wake up Monday morning dreading going to work.
  2. We long for relief from our grueling work schedules.
  3. We seek to find this relief in the pleasures of this life such as hobbies, weekend getaways, vacations, etc.

Now there’s nothing inherently sinful in any of these longings, but if they’re not dealt with properly and Biblically, then they can and do lead us to sin.  So we must consider that the Bible speaks very clearly to us about work.  Here’s what it says…

  1. Work has been cursed by sin.  Read Genesis 3:17-19 and you’ll see this very clearly.  What once was enjoyable has now become anything but.  Work is now burdensome, frustrating, often times unrewarding, and it seeks to consume us and redefine who we are as human beings.  If you have the TGIF syndrome, this is the reason why.
  2. Work is necessary.  2 Thess. 3:10 says, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.”  I remember talking to a neighbor a year or so ago who worked in a very physical job in Baltimore Harbor.  He had torn his ACL and was laid up for a month to recover.  He said that at first the idea of sitting on the couch all day watching Netflix sounded like a dream come true.  But after about 3 days, he admitted, it became absolutely unbearable.  Why?  Because we need to work.  We were created as workmen, and if we’re not working, we’re not really human.  So, we must work.
  3. Rest is necessary.  The main reason that TGIF is so popular is because it’s a half truth.  It appeals to our need to rest.  So we work hard so that we can party hard on the weekend.  But the problem with this is that a) resting in earthly pleasures does not provide the kind of rest we need, b) neither TGIF or ‘work hard/party hard’ are Biblical principles, and c) without the proper kind of rest, we cannot perform the proper kind of work.

When questioned about resting on Sunday, and the proper way it’s to be done, Jesus says in Mark 2:27, “…The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”  Essentially what Jesus is doing here is tearing down the TGIF mentality of work.  We are not to work so that we can rest (TGIF), but we are to rest so we can work (TGIM).  When we start to get this way of thinking into our minds, only then will we start to see work becoming more and more enjoyable as it becomes more productive, and more satisfying.  It becomes more productive because you’re better rested if/when you take Sunday off, and it becomes more satisfying because you’re reminding yourself that you work for Jesus Christ first and foremost rather than for men (Col. 3:23).

One last thing on Sunday rest and work.  Years ago there was a commercial for a business credit card where they profiled an elderly business owner who’d invested decades of his life into his work.  At the end of the commercial he looked into the camera and said, “because this business is who I am.”  Even as a child I can remember thinking how sad this commentary was on life and work.  But this is the reality of working in a fallen world.  Our work seeks to define our identity and it can and does often seek to become who we think that we are.  Here’s how proper Sunday rest helps re-orientate us…

Recently at Cushendall Church we implemented some major changes into our order of worship.  We’ve started using a historical form of worship that comes from our Reformed heritage.  We use this pattern because it helps us define who we truly are as Christians.  It begins with a Call to Worship.  Who are we?  We are people who have been called into God’s presence to worship him.  There is no higher priority in the Christian life than this, to worship God.  So we sing praise to him for welcoming us into his presence. Next we pray a Prayer of Adoration to God.  Who are we?  We are people who are loved by God and who can love like God loves.  Then we read from God’s Law.  This convicts us of sin, points us to Christ, and shows us how to live.  Who are we?  We are people who continue to sin and are in dire need of help.  We then confess our sins to God in prayer.  Who are we?  We are repentant sinners in need of forgiveness.  Then comes my favourite part of the service, the Assurance of Pardon.  Here we read a passage of Scripture that reminds us of God’s great mercy.  Who are we?  We are sinners who have confessed our sins to God and have received his mercy only through the saving grace of Jesus Christ.  We then sing praise to God again for this glorious good news of the Gospel.  We then collect our offering.  Who are we?  We are workers who work, in part, so that we can give back to God from whom all blessings come.  We then pray Intercessory prayers for our congregation and the rest of the world.  Who are we?  We are people dependent on God for all things.  We then sing a Psalm.  Who are we?  We are people who sing God’s praises back to him.  Then comes the Prayer of Illumination where we ask for the Holy Spirit to give us insight into God’s Word.  Who are we?  We are revelation-receivers who live by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.  Then God’s Word is preached to us.  Who are we?  We are people that need continual instruction, correction, and encouragement to keep putting off sin in our lives and to continue growing in grace.  We sing a closing hymn and receive the benediction.  Who are we?  We are people who have peace with God because of what Jesus has done for us on the cross.

So you see how worship is an integral part of Sunday rest.  You see how it re-orients us and transforms us into who we truly are, children of God, created by God, to worship God and to work for Him.