We’re Proud of Gilly

The Portadown Times has just completed its inaugural “Person to be Proud of” poll and the winner is our good friend, Dr Gilbert “Gilly” Carson. With characteristic humility, Gilly says he just cannot fathom why he was chosen and admits that it’s all a bit overwhelming. One of his sisters told me that while Gilly was embarrassed by the publicity, the other members of his family were secretly rooting for┬áhim to win the poll so that they could help him spend the prizes of gift tokens for the local shopping malls.

Photo courtesy of Portadown Times
Photo courtesy of Portadown Times

Good Ulstermen like Gilly are not good at receiving accolades and praise. They hardly know what to say when someone compliments them. And when we want to recognise another’s qualities and contributions we think that if we are over-generous in our words of appreciation the recipient will get a big head and begin to think too highly of himself. As a result, the ministry of encouragement and recognition of worth is not well-developed in many of our Christian circles.

Gilly’s Christian commitment is known and recognised by many people around Portadown. He is appreciated by us all because he gives practical expression to his faith in a number of significant ways. His care and concern for people who arrive at the A&E department in Craigavon Hospital is legendary. The statistics reveal that Craigavon’s A&E department is the busiest in Northern Ireland, serving a wide area of the province, and Gilly is among its most active doctors, seeing a huge number of patients every year. His ability to follow through with patients and to see that they receive the best of attention has been reported to me personally on numerous occasions.

In his role as leader of Edenderry CE, Gilly has made a huge contribution to the spiritual growth and discipleship of many young people. The formula is a simple one: straightforward Bible teaching delivered in a warm atmosphere of Christian fellowship and encouragement.

An American friend of mine joined me at a CE meeting a couple of years ago and sat at the back of the packed hall of 300 teenagers. He said that as the meeting the progressed he kept asking himself, “What’s the hook here? What’s the gimmick that brings these kids to this meeting?” At the conclusion of the evening he concluded that there was no gimmick, but that the young people were attracted by the desire to be with one another in a safe and positive atmosphere of Christian worship. That atmosphere has been nurtured by Gilly Carson and his team of leaders in Edenderry CE whose warm, non-judgmental acceptance of young people has made the difference in so many lives.

So we suppress all our innate Ulster reluctance to give or receive affirmations and compliments, and we celebrate a dear friend’s positive contribution to our community and church. We’re proud of you, Gilly!

Stand Up for the Risen Lord

99cupIt is very disappointing, to say the least, that the European Rugby decision-makers have decided that Ulster’s quarter-final match against Munster will be played at 1.45pm on Easter Sunday. Given the Christian commitment of so many Ulster supporters, as well as the players, it is worse than unfortunate that the ERC authorities have in effect denied Christian supporters of Ulster the opportunity of supporting their team in this important match.

I love Ulster Rugby and for the past number of years I have been a season ticket holder at Ravenhill. Friday nights at Ravenhill are great events, and have been enjoyed by many Christian youth groups as a good social outing. But my commitment to Jesus Christ takes precedence over anything else, and on the most important day in the Christian calendar I plan to be with my fellow Christians worshipping and praising my Risen Saviour. I am grieved that I cannot travel to Thomond Park to stand up for the Ulstermen. I imagine that a significant number of my fellow supporters will also be very disappointed and will feel that their “right” to support their team has been taken away from them.

It’s not that I want everyone to conform to a strict sabbatarian position with regard to sport, and I recognise that there is tradition among many people on this island of participating in and supporting sport on Sunday. But for those of us who are committed to our local church each Sunday, and especially on Easter Sunday, this decision means that we are unable to follow our team to Limerick.

Some years ago there was a controversy over Ulster being required to play their home matches on Sundays and that decision was quickly reversed following representations from the Ulster supporter lobby. I hope that the reaction of Ulster supporters puts some pressure on the ERC to re-think this bad decision.

Homosexuality, reparative therapy, and the Gospel

After listening to a couple of recent editions of Sunday Sequence on Radio Ulster and the controversy surrounding the issue of homosexuality and reparative therapy, I was reminded of what I had read on Al Mohler’s blog a wee while ago. In his characteristically lucid style, Mohler states the orthodox Christian position on this whole issue, and significantly takes us back to the truth and grace of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I will include the entire blogpost below the fold, and it’s worth the read.

Continue reading “Homosexuality, reparative therapy, and the Gospel”

It’s a Wonderful Life

fileit27s_a_wonderful_lifeIt’s a Wonderful Life is an American Christmas drama film produced and directed by Frank Capra, that was based on the short story “The Greatest Gift”, written by Philip Van Doren Stern.┬áReleased in 1946, the film stars James Stewart as George Bailey, a man whose imminent suicide on Christmas Eve brings about the intervention of his guardian angel, Clarence Odbody (Henry Travers). Clarence shows George all the lives he has touched and the contributions he has made to his community. It’s a great film for pastors and elders to watch, especially if they are a bit disillusioned about church life.

In an afterword to his book, What They Didn’t Teach You in Seminary, James Emery White reflects on the calling and challenges of pastoral ministry, and he uses the example of George Bailey to describe his own experience of leaving pastoral ministry to take up a position in a theological seminary. Initially, he viewed it as an escape from all the pressures, demands and criticisms that are part and parcel of congregational life. But within two years, White was delighted to be back in pastoral ministry again.

Just as George Bailey got a chance to see what life would be like if he had never lived, so White says that he was given a chance to see what life would be like without serving as a pastor of a church. And just as George Bailey learned that he wanted to live again, so did White. His conclusion is that if you are called to pastoral ministry, no other vocation will satisfy.

I know it’s tough. I know there are days you want to quit. Don’t. If you do, you’ll wish you could go back. I’ve never yet met anyone who at one time was truly called to the church but did get out of the game who remained glad they left.

You will miss the terrific idea for a talk or a series and having the ability to develop it and teach it.

You will miss coming upon a nugget of scriptural insight, tethered to language and historical insights, and being able to share it.

You will miss living in full community with others – young and old, married and single, believer and seeker, black and white.

You will miss being a leader, chasing dreams and building a kingdom vision that reflects the comprehensive vision of the church, and being free to pursue that vision with all vigour and energy without barrier.

You will miss being on the front lines of impacting lives – not just talking about life change but seeing it, experiencing it, making it happen as you cooperate with the Holy Spirit in people’s lives.

Simply put, if you are a practitioner and not a theoretician, you will miss the practice.

After a hectic programme of activities during the autumn, pastors and elders need to catch their breath over Christmas and New Year and then gird up their loins for a new session of activity. Some of us may feel a bit jaded, and our evaluation of our progress and fruitfulness in ministry may cause some degree of despair. We would love to see the kingdom advancing more quickly and we yearn to see greater growth in sanctification in our own lives and the lives of others. That is the burden and challenge of pastoral ministry. But, if we were taken away from all the frustrations and fears of pastoring a congregation and preaching every week, how better could we spend our days?

Paul’s description of his pastoral care of the Thessalonians continues to encourage and inspire us:

“As apostles of Christ, we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become som dear to us….For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting, and urging you to live lives worthy of God who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed you are our glory and joy.”

I think Paul would agree that when it comes to pastoral ministry, it’s a wonderful life.

Christians can make a difference

Manny Ortiz, with Ron Sider and John Perkins at the opening of the new Esperanza Health Center

Here’s an inspirational account of the difference Christians can make in a difficult urban community. Spirit and Truth Fellowship, under the leadership of my dear friend, Manny Ortiz, has initiated a number of programmes which have transformed their local community in the Hunting Park district of Philadelphia. Manny’s wholistic approach to mission and ministry in this urban area has resulted in a vibrant church that brings blessings and benefits to everyone.

Susan Post, Director of Esperanza Health Center
Susan Post, Director of Esperanza Health Center

The Esperanza Health Center, which was developed out of Spirit and Truth Fellowship, is under the direction of Susan Post who was my former colleague in the administration at Westminster Theological Seminary. Susan, with degrees in engineering, business administration and theology, is a gifted administrator with strong theological convictions, and a heart for serving others in the love and power of Jesus Christ. Under her leadership, Esperanza provides a compassionate ministry to many people in the community who have no health insurance.

At the recent opening of new facilities for Esperanza, Manny was joined by two highly influential Christian leaders in community development, Ron Sider and John Perkins. We wish Susan, and her team at Esperanza, every blessing and much grace as they continue their strategic work which makes such a difference to so many people.