Blue Monday

chairman-of-the-treasury-select-committee-john-mcfallYesterday was supposed to be the most depressing day of the year. Christmas and New Year are over. New Year resolutions have faded. The credit card bills begin to arrive and January’s salary is still a couple of weeks’ away. The hours of daylight have been short for many weeks and we lack vitamin D from the sunshine to make us feel better.

Up at Stormont, it was definitely a “Presbyterian Blue Monday”. The Treasury Select Committee came to investigate the situation with regard to the Presbyterian Mutual Society and there were Presbyterians everywhere, most of them savers with the PMS. Some came feeling blue because of the failure to find a resolution to the PMS crisis, and left, no less true-blue Presbyterians, but feeling a slightly warmer colour because of what they heard.

I was there leading the delegation from PCI. Some people thought that because we met Mr McFall in private we were engaged in some clandestine conspiracy, not wishing to publish our comments or our answers to key questions. The simple fact was that the church had not been scheduled to meet the committee, and it was only after we requested the opportunity to meet with them that we were given a slot with Mr McFall at the very beginning of the day before the rest of the Select Committee arrived. I published our memo to the committee on this blog for everyone to see. Continue reading “Blue Monday”

Patience, Prayer and the PMS

the-presbyterian-mutual-societyBefore Christmas, I asked PMS savers to be patient and prayerful. We have now reached the middle of January and still there is no resolution of the situation. We remain patient and prayerful. My own elders in First Portadown had a special time of prayer for the PMS situation last Sunday. The whole process of resolving this situation seems to be scandalously slow.

On Monday I will be at Stormont with other representatives of PCI to see Mr John McFall, chairman of the Treasury Select Committee, who, along with members of his committee, will be here on a fact-finding mission. We also hope to meet with some of our local politicians to continue to press the issue. Some PMS savers will also have the opportunity to speak with the committee. Continue reading “Patience, Prayer and the PMS”

Peadar Heffron

peadar-heffronI was able to visit Peadar Heffron’s wife and family today. They are maintaining a loving and caring watch over Peadar in hospital as he is treated for serious injuries received last week as a result of a bomb attack on his car. He is critically ill and he needs our prayers.

Peadar is one of a new generation of police officers serving in the Police Service of Northern Ireland. A Catholic, a fluent Irish speaker, and the captain of the PSNI Gaelic football team, Peadar joined the PSNI determined to make a difference in this community. His courage and commitment are in stark contrast to the cowards who planted the bomb under his car with the intention of killing him.

His wife of a few months, Fiona, is an intelligent, resourceful and articulate woman who is showing great courage and emotional strength at a most stressful time. And Peadar has a wonderful family who welcomed me so warmly when I called to see them. They are rural County Antrim people who are displaying a remarkably positive spirit in face of an evil and despicable attack on their son and brother. Whatever challenges lie ahead for Peadar, he will be much-loved and well-supported. Peadar and his family have received messages of support from so many people, and from many fellow police officers across the world.

Please join me in praying for Peadar’s recovery, for his wife, Fiona, and for his parents, Frank and Eithne.  May Peadar know God’s healing touch, and may his family be upheld by the grace and power of the Lord.

Not The Way It’s Supposed To Be

I have referred to it before (May 2009) but the title of Cornelius Platinga’s book of a few years ago (Eerdmans; 1995) continues to be an accurate way to describe features of life in our world and community.  It’s my recurring thought during the events of the first weeks of 2010. It’s not the way it’s supposed to be.

Policemen shouldn’t be blown up by bombs. Wives shouldn’t cheat on their husbands. Young men (and older men) shouldn’t sleep with other men’s wives. Politicians shouldn’t mishandle their expenses or other people’s money to satisfy their greed or for personal advantage. Clergymen and church elders shouldn’t abuse children to satisfy their own perverse lusts. Church authorities shouldn’t cover up child abuse. And none of us should pervert, adulterate or destroy good things by our words or deeds. It’s not the way it’s supposed to be. Continue reading “Not The Way It’s Supposed To Be”

One Fitness

img_0033As we enter the second week of the New Year, the shine begins to wear off some of the new year resolutions. Nobody knows this better than my friend, Jonny, who is the manager of the re-branded gym at Portadown Rugby Club. Under Jonny’s management, it will now be known as One Fitness, with the promise of a complete make-over of the facilities.

Many people join the gym in the new year with the intention of taking exercise more regularly as part of a weight reduction programme or the desire to move to a more healthy lifestyle. But every gym manager knows that maintaining the initial good intention is a huge challenge, with the average retention rate being as low as 30%.

The experts say that health clubs and gyms that focus on sales and neglect customer service may bring in waves of new members, but if their clients are sneaking out the back door as quickly as they came in the front door, their low retention rates may be chipping away at their bottom line. Case in point: it costs two-and-a-half times more to recruit a new member as it does to retain an existing member, says Bob Esquerre, president of Esquerre Fitness Group, a consulting company.

“You’re wasting money every time you lose a member, and no one is in this business to lose money,” he says. “If you do a great job of taking care of your members, they’ll refer their friends and coworkers and become your club’s business card, article in the newspaper or advertisement on the radio, and it won’t cost the club a penny.”

It seems to me that there are many parallels between the gym and Christianity. Firstly, some people start off well, but just don’t continue. Retention is a problem for the church as well as for gyms and health clubs. Churches may have an open front door in terms of evangelism, but discover that many people, for various reasons, are leaving through the back door. But then did Jesus, in the parable of the soils, not say that it would be like that? Only one of the four types of soil actually yielded a harvest.

Secondly, many people admit that exercise is something they ought to do regularly, but they don’t get round to doing it. Like reading the Bible or praying, we know we ought to do it, that it will benefit us, but we often falter and fail. Paul says that we may have the desire to do the right thing but just can’t carry it out because of our sinful nature (Romans 7:18-23). According to Paul, it’s a war.

But I think that there is another, perhaps more important lesson to be learned. When I make it to the gym regularly, I feel good, even self-righteous. When I don’t get there, I feel guilty. All performance-based religions have the same effects. Pharisaism produces either guilt or pride. Jerry Bridges puts it like this:

Pharisee-type believers unconsciously think they’ve earned God’s blessing through their behaviour. Guilt-laden believers are sure they’ve forfeited God’s blessing through disobedience or lack of discipline. Both have forgotten the meaning of grace – God’s unmerited favour to those who deserve only his wrath.

Most of us probably entertain either of these attitudes on different days. On a good day (as we perceive it) we tend towards self-righteous Pharisaism. On a not-so-good day we allow ourselves to wallow in a sense of failure and guilt. Either way we have moved away from the gospel of God’s grace, trying to relate to God directly on the basis of our performance rather than through Christ.

The Discipline of Grace

The fact is that we are never good enough to be acceptable to God, no matter how many resolutions we keep. The life, death and resurrection of Christ is meaningless and superfluous if we can be right with God by our own efforts. The only way we can relate to God is through the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 10:19-21).

It is the riches of God’s grace that gives us the power and motivation to serve Him. So there’s no pride or guilt when we are focused on Christ. That’s the greatest resolution I need to make and keep: “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:1,2 ESV)