Thursday, January 19, 2017

The big 4-0

Entering a mile stone year, I felt it was time to reconnect with the blog. I feel that I want to achieve great things this year and wanted to keep a record of everything. When I was turning 30, it felt so big and old. I remember Katrina got me a Man Utd top with 'Stevie 30' on the back and it sunk in, and I didn't like it one bit. Turning 40 mind you, is completely different and I'm okay with it. Actually quite looking forward to it. In the Bible the number forty is significant and symbolises testing, trials and temptation. So I wanted to make this year count. I want to set myself challenges and targets, 40, to be exact! So here are some of the things I'd like to do: #1 - read more books (40??!!) #2 - do a 40 day fast from treats #3 - do 40 press ups for 40 days #4 - do 40 sit ups for 40 days #5 - run the marathon #6 - cycle Lap the Lough #7 - raise some money for charity #8 - preach a sermon #9 - lead a mission #10 - act in a play/drama

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Preaching and Worship

We all know and believe that worship is a lifestyle not just singing songs - at least I hope we do! This morning we talked about where in the worship service should the preaching of the word fit in? Some traditions represented have the sermon in the middle of the service as its central. Some services have the sermon at the end of the service. I have tried, in the past with Mannafest, to have the sermon at the start. After all, that is when you expect peoples attention to be at its highest. They haven't had to sit through the announcements, the offering, the childrens talk, the hymn and prayer sandwiches....

But what does the Bible teach? And what it the theology behind the placement of the sermon. Ian took us to Exodus ch.3. Here we see God initiating Moses to come and worship. There is then self revelation from God. Then Moses responds to God.

So we could say that God's word comes before a response time which could include prayer, singing and/or communion.

Going back to Mannafest, the best times of response where in response to God's word. I felt anyway, that young people sang more and engaged more in prayer after the talk. Now to go straight into the sermon might not be the best practise. We did have a time of praise songs, or a time to prepare the heart.

I felt frustrated sometimes that after hearing a sermon on Sunday morning, the benediction was said and everyone ran out, leaving no time for response or reflection.

I think this throws open a bigger question - what is the purpose of corporate worship?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Castlewellan PS SU

Haven't been in this school for a couple of years, but its always a great drive down, seeing the Mourne Mountains and all. Katrina came with me, just to make sure I was working, no I actually asked her to come help as they are a lively bunch down here!

A couple of things to note. I have developed some lessons with Compassion UK, exploring the idea of giving thanks and sharing, the problem with money in the world and how to make a difference in the world. We gave out some sweets to show the distribution of wealth to particular countries. 12 kids, 12 countries, 12 gold coins. Enough for one each, but obviously to make a point some countries got more than one and some countries got none. At the end of this activity I asked those who had to share with those who had none. Some snatched, some begged, some huffed, but in the end there was 1 person with no gold coin! And could we find the lost coin...I thought I was going to have to use one of Jesus' parables. We eventually found that one boy had 2 gold coins, 1 hidden in his pocket! Even with something so simple as a chocolate coin, some people don't want to share with those who have nothing.

Secondly, before I closed in prayer, I left it open for any of the children who wanted to pray at the end, and one girl did. I love hearing kids pray. Such honesty and openness

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Preaching the Parables

We had an interesting discussion based around what we thought was the purpose of the parables. Where the designed to keep people out of heaven? Think about it - after dismissing this question allow it to provoke thought! I didn't ask it - it was Cameron!

William suggested that the Parables are like jokes - they are based around people, they have a twist in the middle and they finish with a punchline!

The Parables of Jesus were meant to shock and they were meant to reveal the mystery of God. Do the Parables teach doctrine and theology?

We looked at how Augustine interpretted the Parable fo the Good Samaritan - very interesting!

The man who was going to Jerusalem = Adam
Jerusalem = heavenly city of peace, from which Adam fell
Jericho = the moon (:p)
robbers = demons
sstripped him = of his immortality
beat him = by persuading him to sin
leaving him half dead = as a man lives, but he died spiritually
the priest and Levite = the priesthood and ministry of OT
the Samaritan = Jesus
bandaged his wounds = binding the restraint of sin
oil = comfort of good hope
wine = exhortation to work with a fervent spirit
donkey = the flesh of Christ's inccarnation
inn = the Church
the next day = after the Resurrection
2 silver coins = promise of life and the life to come
innkeeper = Paul!

I guess you can take things too literal and hear we see the dangers of using the Parables as allegorical!

Sweet and Sour

It was my time to preach at BBC. It was an interesting experience. I really enjoyed preparing something that I haven't delivered before. I wanted to take what I had learned and put it into practise. On the other hand, you are being assessed and that was like being on teaching practise again. You are always aware of the tutors writing (or not writing!) comments down at the back of class.

Anyway here's what I shared....

Sweet and Sour – an introduction to Ezekiel

If you ever have a Chinese, there is so much choice in what you can have. I am always drawn to ‘Sweet and Sour’. It’s an interesting mix. It’s a balanced combination.

I think as preachers our message has to be like SWEET and SOUR. We always have to balance out God’s grace with God’s judgement. Some preachers can focus too much on God’s grace – the SWEET, and forget about God’s judgement – the SOUR. I think if we are to proclaim the good news in its entirety we got to first address the bad news. I remember one gospel tract saying that the good news is so good cos the bad news is so bad!

Today I want to look at a book and a character who as a messenger has a SWEET and SOUR message.

The book of Ezekiel is split into 3 parts
1. ch4-24 – Judah’s judgment
2. ch25-32 – the heathen nations judgment
3. ch33-48 – the future blessings for God’s covenant people

The character of Ezekiel is an interesting one. The author, whose name means “GOD STRENGHTENS” is identified as “Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi” (1v3). Ezekiel was probably around 30 years old when these events are recorded. As Numbers 4 makes clear, the ages of 30 and 50 mark the span of the active service of the priests.

There are so many comparisons between Ezekiel and Christ. Both, it seemed, started their public ministry at the age of 30. The title “SON OF MAN” occurs some 90 times in Ezekiel. While the title is applied to Ezekiel himself, it was used by Jesus as well. In ch2v2, Ezekiel was taken up in the Spirit, just as we read in Matthew 4v1, how Jesus was taken by the Spirit into the wilderness after his baptism.

Although we shall hopefully learn form Ezekiel’s character it is his openness to God’s Spirit that we should try to emulate.

Ezekiel as a messenger can teach us as preachers key lessons. The passage we have read (2v1-3v16) has been entitled Ezekiels call and commission. (New Living Translation)

Ch2 v1 says “Stand up, son of man,” said the voice. “I want to speak with you”

The position is important to note. When Jesus sat down (Matthew 5v1)we understand that sitting down was a position of a rabbi and of authority. To stand then would signal a position of readiness and willingness in serving a master. As preachers we need to be in a position of readiness empowered by God’s Spirit.

Ch2v5 says, “And whether they listen or refuse to listen…”

Here we read of Ezekiel’s need to be FAITHFUL. God told him that he must give the message whether they listen or not. As a preacher it is hard enough to know that people are not listening to you during your sermon, but to know that they will not listen to you before you start would take tremendous faithfulness on the part of the messenger. As preachers we need to be FAITHFUL to God and God’s word.

Ch2 v6 says “Son of man, do not fear them or their words.”

As preachers we can focus our attention son pleasing people or pleasing God. We can fear what people will think or fear what God will think of us. Above all we should have COURAGE in who God is and what God is saying through us.

Ch 2v8 says, “Open your mouth, and eat what I give you.”

This is almost like a bush tucker trial on I’m a Celebrity get me out of here! You have no idea what you are going to eat. But in ch3v2 we read, “So I opened my mouth, and he fed me the scroll.” As Ezekiel was obedient to God so we as preachers should be OBEDIENT to God.

I would like to go a bit deeper and focus on the word ‘SCROLL’. We will look at the word SCROLL in this passage but also look elsewhere in the Bible to when SCROLLS are mentioned and see if we ca learn anything from the Bible teaching the Bible.

In ch2v10 Ezekiel comments that the scroll (which was SWEET) was covered on both sides with funeral songs, words of sorrow, and pronouncements of (which is SOUR). Apparently the reason for the scroll being covered on both sides would mean that the prophet had no room to add anything of himself to God’s message. Very often as preachers we like to add our own slant of things, but we should remember to be FAITHFUL and OBEDIENT to God. I wonder how we would respond when asked to deliver a SOUR message of funeral songs, words of sorrow and pronouncements of doom? I would much rather deliver messages of joy, hope and love.

Secondly, the scroll tasted of honey. (3v3) It was SWEET. So here we have SWEET and SOUR. In Scripture we have other references to God’s word being as SWEET as honey. Psalm 19v10 and Psalms 119v103.

In Jewish tradition when children where learning to memorise the TORAH, apparently they were given a taste of honey. So I want us now to taste some honey and let our senses reveal to us the sweetness of the word of God.

As preachers we need to have the taste and desire for God’s word. I’m reminded of some songs we sing in Church:
“Your name is like honey on my lips…”
“How sweet the name of Jesus sounds in a believers ear…”

If we approach the Scriptures as bees, as children or even as Whinny the Pooh does with honey it will show in our delivery and sermons. When we present the sweetness of God’s word to people, hopefully they should leave with a desire and taste in their mouths and their lives for more. One of the reasons, I believe, we preach is to motive and encourage and challenge people to go home and get into God’s word for themselves.
This brings me to my main point. In ch3 v10 we read, “Son of man, let all my words sink deep into your own heart first. Listen to them carefully for yourself. Then go….”

As preachers we should be letting God’s word sink deep into our own hearts FIRST! The key word here is FIRST. Henry Blakeby says that God is more interested in the work he does in and than the work he does through us. But the more work God does in us, the more God will work through us.”

As preachers we cannot neglect our personal devotion to God. If we neglect the spiritual disciplines of meditating and memorisation we will not only suffer ourselves but our congregations will suffer. This is a SOUR and bitter reality. Normally in Christian Ministry the first area to be neglected is personal study and devotions. Here we see very clearly that God wants us to listen to Him for ourselves and then go on others.

The good news is that Almighty God actually wants to speak to little old us. That is SWEET!

The word SCROLL is mentioned between 35 and 65 times in the Bible depending on your translation. Mostly we find the word SCROLL in the books of Jeremiah and Revelations.

Revelation 10v10 says “So I took the small scroll and I ate it. It was SWEET in my mouth but when I swallowed it, it turned SOUR in my stomach.”

I believe the gospel is SWEET and SOUR. It is a balanced message which is full of contrasting imagery. Light and dark. Life and death. Sweet and sour.

As preachers we would do well to learn from Ezekiel’s example. We are to be READY to receive God’s word for ourselves and then READY to go and take that message to whoever God chooses. We are to be FAITHFUL in presenting God’s message whether people listen or accept it or not. We are to be COURAGEOUS in or delivery and not fear peoples angry looks or ridicule. And lastly we are to be OBEDIENT to God when God asks us to do something.

We finish with ch3v14-15. Ezekiel having tasted the sweetness of the scroll left with bitterness and sourness and ended up sitting among the exiles for 7 days.

Very often the sweetness of being in the pulpit can turn sour when we come down away from the crowds, the stage and the lights. I believe we can deal with this if we remember to let all God’s words sink deep into our own heart first and to listen to Gods words carefully for ourselves.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Comber PS SU

This was my first time in this school - and it will probably be my last!

We met with a great group of 34 kids, but I had technical problems with the powerpoint. What is it with computers? Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but with computers, projectors and anything to do with sound....

Anyway it got sorted, and thanks to Laura keeping them occupied by playing games with the kids, we were able to talk about the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin. I've been listening to these talks from Open Door and it was good to make them applicable for young people. I used 'Finding Nemo' as a modern day parable to teach these kids about God's love for them.

I felt strongly that these young people need to know that as they get older and grow up, that they remember how much God loves them like a good shepherd and a crazy woman! Love that picture of God - as a crazy woman....

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Pastoral Care preaching

This was a very interesting morning. We looked at being human, and how as a preacher which should try to remain human. Some preachers change their voice, others change their whole personna. We were encouraged to try and be ourselves with a little polishing needed in delivery by clearer diction. Ian talked about how preaching as a vocation can dehumanise you. While the preacher is stuck in the office preparing a sermon, the rest of the world are slogging their guts out trying to make ends meet.

Another point made was, if you detach preachers form pastoral ministry, they are in danger of not knowing people. Being with people is never wasting time. Which is interesting, as I always thought the dream job would be to be a teaching pastor of a Church, and hacve no other involvement in Chruch affairs. I have always thought each person should do one thing and do it well. So expecting a pastor or minister to be a person with many talents, would not only be unfair but unrealistic.

A quote was read from Graham Johnstons book 'Preaching to a postmodern world', that "we don't preach the Bible but we preach the Bible to people. And we don't teach the Bible, but we teach people the Bible."

So a really obvious but challenging question I found myself asking was, I may love preaching but do I love people?

We also looked at John 3v8 inthe context of preaching. We hear a sermon but the Holy Spirit can take it to many different places and people. There is a mystery in preaching that we cannot predict. There are things that are unseen, like the wind, but we see reactions to the wind(spirit).

Monday, November 09, 2009


On Friday night we had the extreme pleasure of having Dave and Bonnie Johnson at our Bible Study Group. We normally meet on a Monday evening, but in order to accomodate the Johnson's schedule we readily and happily agreed to the change.

After going thru 'Simplicity, love and justice' last year, we wanted to get into the Bible a bit more. I suggested Dave Johnson, as I know no one better at teaching God's word (apart from God himself - or Ray!) So the group listened to Dave and thoroughly agreed. Whats great about the message every week is that is comes along with a message tool which you sign up for at their website and they send you out a set of questions and discussions as well as the occasional movie recommendation. Check out website. I had suggested to the group that I would email the Johnsons since they were coming over to Belfast in November. They thought I was joking but if you don't ask, you don't get!

Friday night was one of those surreal moments. We were all just sitting round chatting and laughing with the Johnsons. Dave is the same guy he is behind the pulpit which says a lot about him. He says himself he is goofy, and he is so animated and passionate. It was so relaxed and normal in a way but also a dream come true - to actually sit done and listen to someone you really respect and idolise in a non blasphemy type way.....

We also got to hear Bonnie's story and slant on things which was great. Behind every good man is a great woman! They even gave us some advice on marriage, which Katrina asked for!