Trusting God in the Face of Tragedy

Last Wednesday morning one of the wisest and most gracious Pastors in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland collapsed and died suddenly and unexpectedly. Rev Knox Hyndman had retired after a long and productive 42 year ministry, and during his retirement he had helped to plant a new congregation in East Belfast, preaching and pastoring a small group of saints for five years. He leaves behind his wife, three children and three grandchildren, and countless grieving friends who are devastated by the loss of this ‘prince in Israel’.

A young woman who used to belong to our congregation has been told she has only a short time left to live, humanly speaking, as cancer races to every part of her body. She and her husband have four children under the age of 6, the youngest just born a couple of months ago.

On Wednesday of this week Nikolas Cruz walked into his former high school in Parkland, Florida, and began shooting students and teachers indiscriminately. He left at least 17 dead in the sixth school shooting incident this year that has either wounded or killed students.

How do we respond to tragedies like these as Christians? Of course there are many things we […]

God has a plan for you

The beginning of a new year brings all kinds of emotions with it. Maybe it’s just the excitement of a new start, or the anticipation of some new venture in the year to come—a wedding, an expected birth, a special holiday. Or perhaps it’s the optimism that comes from making a set of new year resolutions. But a new year can bring with it very different feelings: anxiety, uncertainty, even fear. What lies in store for me this year? Heartache and suffering? What if some tragedy strikes? Will I be able to cope?

Christians are subject to the ups and downs of life in a fallen world as much as anyone else, but we have comfort and hope in the midst of uncertainty that no unbeliever has. We know that our Father in heaven is in control of everything that happens and is working out his purposes for us.

One of the most helpful verses to hold on to whenever we are fearful about the future is Jer 29.11: ‘For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.’ These are words you may know […]

Peace on Earth

‘You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.’ (Isaiah 26.3)

Do you long for peace? Do you feel stressed and anxious, burdened by all kinds of pressures and fears? Here’s a promise from the word of God that is tailor-made for you. Here our Heavenly Father promises peace to certain people. What is this peace? In English we tend to think of peace as the absence of strife. Peace comes when fighting stops. Or think of the harrassed young mother who begs her children for five minutes’ peace—five minutes of nothing: no shouting, crying, whinging or squabbling.

The biblical concept of peace is much richer. It describes not just the absence of bad but the presence of good. Not just no fighting, but positive, productive, harmonious cooperation. Five minutes’ peace is not simply five minutes of no arguing but five minutes of encouraging. Peace in Scripture means health, wholeness, spiritual robustness.

It’s crucial to understand this, because we could read this verse and come away with the idea that Christians are meant to sail through life untroubled and unruffled by anything that happens. Your child gets sick, your wife dies, your house […]

What’s wrong with the Occult?

I’m giving a talk this evening to some of the young people of our Presbytery about the Occult, so I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone today… Eastern Presbytery CY members look away now!!

 

In his introduction to The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis wrote ‘There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.’ Lewis makes the point that the Devil is perfectly happy with either of those extremes – both suit his purpose very well. The apostle Paul says in 2 Cor 2.11 that we are not ignorant of the Devil’s tactics. The occult is one of his many tactics to ensnare human beings, and so we should be aware of it dangers.

 

What is the Occult?

The word ‘occult’ means ‘secret’ or ‘hidden’. Occult practices have to do with gaining secret, hidden knowledge and using invisible powers to control things in the world. This knowledge and power comes from the unseen, supernatural world. All kinds of practices fall under label ‘occult’, such as fortune telling (in any of its many […]

Boy or Girl? How do we relate to Transgender People?

The decision this week by English parents Nigel and Sally Rowe to remove their 6-year old son from primary school and homeschool him instead has started a media storm. Why the fuss? Because their reason for doing so was the confusion their son experienced when a boy in his class came to school dressed as a girl and was treated as a girl by all the staff. Pupils at this school are free to ‘change’ their gender from day to day as they wish.

This comes just a week after one of the UK’s leading department stores, John Lewis, made the controversial decision to remove signs identifying children’s clothes in their stores as either ‘boys’’ or ‘girls’’. They now sell dresses for boys and ‘gender neutral’ clothing.

There is no doubt that an extreme transgender agenda is being pushed and rapidly accepted by our culture. How should we respond as Christians? Al Mohler describes the transgender revolution as ‘…one of the most difficult pastoral challenges this generation of Christians will face.’

How should we relate as Christians to those who genuinely feel they are trapped in the wrong body? I’m not thinking here of those who have a passing sense of ‘gender incongruence’. […]

Discovering God’s Love Together

In Ephesians 3.18 Paul prays that God would give his readers the strength they need to comprehend something of the limitless dimensions of the love of Christ, but he tucks a little phrase into the prayer that we can so easily skate over: ‘with all the saints’. We comprehend the love of Christ with all the saints. In other words, it’s just not possible to understand the love of Christ in isolation. Paul is not asking that the Ephesians would have thrilling individual revelations of the love of Christ as they each sit on top of a mountain or in their own home. He is praying that together, collectively, they will grow in their appreciation and experience of the love of God. It’s not far away from what he says in the next chapter, in verse 16, when he speaks of the body building itself up in love.

There is a corporateness, a togetherness, about New Testament Christianity that is lacking in so many Western churches. We are so focused on our own personal time with God and what he is saying to me and how he is blessing me that we lose this important emphasis: ‘with all the saints’.

Part of […]

Do you Refresh the Hearts of the Saints?

“You have often refreshed the hearts of the saints.”

So Paul wrote to his good friend Philemon, as he thanked God for his love for all the saints. The church at Colosse met in Philemon and Apphia’s home, and it’s not hard to imagine what life must have been like for the household. No doubt every day there was constant coming and going of visitors in and out of the house. There was a guest room for visitors (Phm 22) which was probably well used. Apphia must surely have cooked many meals for guests. When you arrived at Philemon’s home you were always sure of a warm welcome – you never felt like you were intruding – they were the sort of people who were always pleased to see you and who were genuinely delighted to have people stay. Can’t you just picture Philemon and Apphia sitting with people far into the night, giving comfort and counsel, praying with them, refreshing them in the depths of their souls. This word ‘refresh’ is used elsewhere in Greek of soldiers resting. What a beautiful image of Philemon’s ministry: to battle-weary believers worn out from fighting against temptation or persecution or false teaching or […]

Guilty!

Two weeks ago a close member of my family was sentenced to a three and a half year prison sentence for drugs related offences. Although it wasn’t a complete surprise, nevertheless the news when it came was still naturally shocking and distressing. As I’ve had some time to process things I thought I’d write a little about some of the things the Lord has been teaching me over these weeks.

A newfound appreciation of the sovereign wisdom of God. For years we have been praying for this family member to be converted, and our prayer has always been, ‘Lord, do whatever it takes to save him.’ In the last five or ten years, as we’ve watched him go from bad to worse and seen his stubborn unwillingness to change, it’s become increasingly clear that unless God graciously stopped him in his tracks by conversion, only something like a prison sentence would be enough to get him off the road of self-destruction he was hurtling down. And so, ever since he was charged with these offences back in March and the likelihood of a prison sentence loomed, we haven’t really been praying that he would be acquitted, but rather that God would […]

Fidget Spinners, the Gospel and School Assembly

I’ve just come home from taking the assembly at our local primary school and it struck me that the American readers of our blog in particular might be interested – if not downright astonished – to hear something about it. Even UK readers – indeed, even some Northern Irish readers – might be encouraged by the liberty and opportunity that exists for sharing the gospel in a state school in Northern Ireland. Also, there aren’t a lot of good resources for Pastors who take assemblies, so perhaps something I’ve done will help spark off other ideas.

Mossley Primary School has a deeply committed and evangelical headmaster and vice principal, not to mention a majority of Christian members of staff. The school is not a Christian school, but it has the Bible on its crest, and has always given a high place to the Word of God. Parents of prospective pupils are told on open nights that while academic work is important, character is even more important, and that the character traits the school seeks to teach are the fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5. The headmaster will tell the parents that each child is unique and precious because he […]

A Caution to Heresy Hunters

Recently I came across the following surprising quotation from Charles Hodge, professor of Princeton Seminary from 1820-78:

‘It is not enough that a doctrine be erroneous, or that it be dangerous in its tendency; if it be not subversive of one or more of the constituent elements of the Reformed faith, it is not incompatible with the honest adopting of our Confession. It cannot be denied that ever since the Reformation, more or less diversity in the statement and explanation of the doctrines of Calvinism has prevailed in the Reformed Churches.’ (David B. Calhoun, Princeton Seminary, Faith and Learning, 1812-1868, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1994, p.217)

Charles Hodge was one of the leading exponents and defenders of the Reformed faith in the 19th century, yet he showed a remarkable tolerance towards those who did not see things in theology in exactly the same way as he did. In its historical context, Hodge was referring those who held to ‘the New Divinity’ (also called Edwardseanism, Consistent Calvinism or Hopkinsianism). Amongst other things its adherents presented the atonement as the outworking of God’s love or a demonstration of his moral government rather than as a substitutionary satisfaction for sin.

Now, I am certainly not defending […]