The Water of Life

frozen-pipeWe have been well and truly hit by the big freeze. In spite of keeping the heat on all night in the house, today our water supply failed. After much activity with boiling water and a blow torch over every exposed piece of pipe, the plumber eventually arrived to diagnose the problem as a frozen mains pipe which has cut off all water supply to our 160 year old manse. Apparently all we can do is wait for the thaw!

In the few hours we have been without water we have discovered how dependent we have become on a continuous supply of water to our home. No showers, no baths, no water on tap for brushing teeth, no dishwasher, no washing machine, and worst of all, no flush toilets. Will we be able to survive? Of course we will, but it seems that this Christmas may be a little more basic and Victorian than we had expected.

I think the Lord has sense of humour. After our visit to Ethiopia in August 2009, I talked to children in many congregations that we visited about the importance of a having a supply of clean, fresh water. I asked the young people how many taps they had in their home and discovered that most homes in this part of the world were very well supplied. One boy in Co Tyrone claimed to have 17 taps in his house, and many had 10 or more. I then told them about a 15 year old girl we met in Ethiopia whose nearest tap was a 3 hour walk from her home and she had to make the journey every other day in order to get water for her family. How privileged we are to have not just one, but several taps in our homes!

So it seems that having talked about it, the Lord has decided that I need to share a little of the experience first-hand. So I’m bracing myself for a Christmas without a supply of running water. I expect I’ll have to make a daily journey to the church kitchen about a quarter of a mile away to replenish my water containers. In a few days, hopefully, the thaw will come and normal water supply will be restored. And in the meantime I will remember my friends in Ethiopia who would be so thankful if they ever get to have just one tap for their entire village.

Update on 28th December: This is now our 6th day without water. Still no mains supply! Maybe I should be praying for the staff and workers of NI Water?

Update on 29th December at 7.30pm: Water restored!! Thank you, Lord!

Webber Street

img_0455Patricia and I were in London for a few days this week catching up with our offspring who live there. For the past few months, our son has been working with a ministry to homeless people in the Waterloo area at Webber Street. We were eager to see the neighbourhood and the facilities at Webber Street, and to understand a bit more about this work.

The Webber Street ministry is currently carried on under the auspices of the London City Mission, but its origins date back to a ministry known as the London Embankment Mission which began in the 19th century. Each day they offer breakfast to around 100 rough sleepers, mostly men, who are known as their “guests”. With a mug of hot, sweet tea in their hands, the guests listen to short talk on spiritual matters before enjoying a hearty breakfast of toast, beans, tomatoes and bacon.

The Webber Street ministry also provides their guests with new clothes, hair and beard cuts, and medical advice. The shower facilities are limited so that they can provide showers for only 15 guests each day.

img_0457It is a challenging and exhausting ministry, both physically and spiritually. Many of the guests are Eastern European who have come to London looking for work, but who end up disappointed. For others, homelessness is a result of alcohol or drug abuse, failing relationships, unemployment or mental health issues. Many are lonely, disoriented, and in need of human friendship and support.

Those who work at Webber Street are committed to seeing their guests move on in their lives and they spend time talking to them, writing referrals, and helping them to find accommodation or work. By word and deed, they seek to share the love and grace of Jesus Christ. It is an impressive ministry among a group of marginalised and needy people.

img_0459This year the London City Mission celebrates its 175th anniversary. The mission of LCM is to share with the people of London, patiently, sensitively and individually the transforming love of God in Jesus Christ, and to enable them to join his Church. It’s track record of ministry and mission makes it a worthy object of our support through our prayers and our giving. In a wide variety of ministries, with a great team of gifted and committed people, LCM gives credibility to the gospel. Webber Street is a wonderful example of that credible, gospel-centred, mission.

As I walked around Webber Street, I thought that if Jesus was physically alive on earth today, I imagine that he would be there, showing love and support to the “guests”. And then I realised that by His Spirit He is there, in the words and actions of his servants.

On the green, grassy slopes of the Boyne

img_0377We had a good day out recently at Oldbridge House on the site of the Battle of the Boyne. It was a lovely afternoon and we were able to take in the tour of the house and the audio-visual presentation which recounted the details of the biggest battle in Irish history.

The Battle of the Boyne was fought on 1st July, 1690 between two rival claimants of the English, Scottish and Irish thrones – the Catholic King James and the Protestant King William, who had deposed James in 1688. The battle, won by William, was a turning point in James’ unsuccessful attempt to regain the crown and ultimately helped ensure the continuation of Protestant supremacy in Ireland.

img_0386The visit to Oldbridge house was highly informative, and I learned facts about the battle that I hadn’t known. William had 36,000 men and James had 25,000 – the largest number of troops ever deployed on an Irish battlefield. English, Scottish, Dutch, Danes and Huguenots made up William’s army (Williamites), while Jame’s men (Jacobites) were mainly Irish Catholics, reinforced by 6,500 French troops sent by King Louis XIV. At stake were not only the British throne, but also French dominance in Europe and religious power in Ireland. The presentation in Oldbridge House helpfully places the Battle of the Boyne in its European context, making it clear that it was much more than a sectarian spat.

William’s camp was on the north side of the river. James’s was on the south side with the two armies facing each other.  William’s battle plan was to trap the Jacobite army in a pincer movement.  He sent 10,000 men towards Slane which drew the bulk of the Jacobities upstream in response.  With 1,300 Jacobites posted in Drogheda, only 6,000 were left at Oldbridge to confront 26,000 Williamites. All the fighting took place on the south side of the river as the vastly outnumbered Jacobite defended their position against the advancing Williamites.  William himself crossed at Drybridge with 3,500 mounted troops. Approximately 1,500 soldiers were killed at the Boyne.

bob_largerightcolimageWe were able to walk some around some of the 500 acres the grounds and we enjoyed the impressive display of horsemanship that was provided in the area in front of the big house. We learned about the importance of the calvary in battle and how horses could be best employed in breaching a line of infantrymen. A lot has been done in recent months to make this site a very interesting place to visit.

The big downside of the trip was the very poor signage provided from the main Belfast to Dublin motorway that runs less than a mile from the site. Maybe someone in the Office of Public Works will address this oversight fairly soon. With a bit of guesswork on the roads around the site and directions from some of the locals, we eventually got to our destination. The opening of the new section of motorway around Newry made the journey from mid-Ulster remarkably quick. The next time we visit we will know exactly where to go, and, weather permitting, we will look forward to a picnic on the green, grassy slopes overlooking the Boyne and Oldbridge House.

How to listen to a sermon

A recent publication by The Good Book Company is a little gem by Christopher Ash, Director of the Cornhill Training Course in London, entitled Listen Up. It’s a very practical guide to listening to sermons.

This Sunday I’m back in my own pulpit after being away for 14 months. I am looking forward to being with my own congregation and to the task of ministering to them, in the pulpit and out of the pulpit. I am back to the discipline of preparing at least two sermons a week, and thankfully there are lots of resources to help preachers to preach good sermons. But there is virtually nothing in the last 200 years on helping people in the pews to listen to sermons. That’s why this wee book (available in our favourite local Faith Mission Bookshop in Portadown) is so helpful.

So here are Ash’s seven ingredients for healthy sermon listening:

1. Expect God to speak

2. Admit God knows better than you

3. Check the preacher says what the passage says

4. Hear the sermon in church

5. Be there week by week

6. Do what the Bible says

7. Do what the Bible says today – and rejoice!

He also has an interesting chapter on how to listen to bad sermons. How do you listen to a dull sermon? How do you listen to a biblically inadequate sermon? How do you listen to a heretical sermon? (The short answer to the last question is: Don’t!) How can we get better sermons? All great questions, with good answers provided.

I like this short book because it describes the relationship between the preacher and his congregation and encourages a relationship of “active listening” and feedback. That is essential if a pastor and his people are going to grow spiritually together. I need to improve as a preacher and as a person, and I know that will only happen as my congregation talks to me and responds to what I say in the pulpit. The days of being in the pulpit “six feet above contradiction” are long gone.

So I’m getting ready to preach on Sunday. I hope my people are ready to listen. And I hope I will have ears to hear what they are saying to me.

God and the World Cup

fifa-world-cup-orgIn an interesting piece in the Daily Telegraph, Mick Brown tries to make some theological points about the World Cup. His most interesting conclusion is that Catholic countries fare much better than Protestant ones when it comes to the World Cup. Apparently it’s fourteen titles against four. It’s the sort of factoid that could cause a bit of heated debate in some Ulster pubs.

Brazil may be considered a Catholic country, (at the last census in 2000, 70% of the population described themselves as Catholic), but the Assembly of God Pentecostal denomination has more people worshipping in their churches in the greater Sao Paulo area than in the whole of the US. It is a country of mixed religious convictions.

One of Brazil’s most gifted players, Kaká, is an evangelical Christian. At the age of 18, he suffered a career-threatening and possibly paralysis-inducing spinal fracture as a result of a swimming pool accident, but remarkably made a full recovery. He attributes his recovery to God and has since tithed his income to his church. I thought his response to being given a very dubious red card in Brazil’s game against the Ivory Coast was very controlled, and in my humble estimation Brazil is the team to beat in this World Cup.

Some players attribute their performance on the field to divine help. The best known was Maradona in 1986, who made the important contribution that led to the exit of England from the competition. He was ready to take some credit himself: “a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God”.

If that principle of the necessity for divine intervention is true then one might expect that there will be an upsurge in devotion all across England tonight. My Linfield-supporting friend’s favourite joke is “What’s the difference between praying in church and praying at Windsor Park? At Windsor Park, you really mean it!” English supporters will need to pray hard, and mean it. As Mick Brown says, their only hope is that God is, after all, an Englishman. I don’t think so.