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Marriage: Dealing with differences

When we marry, very often we marry someone different to us. That’s what attracts us in the first place. That’s what makes them seem exciting—they see and do things differently.

But the difference between interesting and irritating is often just a matter of time. Too soon what intrigued us can become annoying—her planning starts to cramp your ‘go with the flow’ attitude, his high flying work life clashes with your plans for a warm family life. Tensions build around these differences, and we become ingrained into thinking that our way of seeing life is right, and that the other person needs to wise up and come around to our way of thinking. All the while they think the same, if only we would see life their way, then all would be great.

There are differences that are issues of right/wrong—moral issues—that need to be dealt with rather than accommodated. But there issues of background, culture, personality—these differences are not an issue of wrong or right, they are just differences of preference.

How do we respond to these so that they do not become irritating? We have two choices. We can either embrace the differences that God has brought to our marriage. Or, we can try to be God, trying to change our spouse into our image.

Paul Tripp in his book on marriage that we have been dipping into over these last few weeks suggests five God-pleasing ways to respond to these differences:

Celebrate your Creator. The more you acknowledge and appreciate the fact that God made your spouse exactly as you need them to be, the more you will tend to esteem and appreciate them.

Refuse to see the differences as right or wrong. When you begin to think and act as though your hardwiring makes you better, more mature, or more righteous than your spouse, you will act and respond in ways that are dismissive and disrespectful.

Determine to respond to your differences with appreciation and respect. We are used to being impatient or irritated in the face of differences, used to doing what we need to get our own way. Those responses are more about your relationship with God than about your husband or wife. You disagree with how God made your wife or your husband. Marriage is about two people creating something stronger together than they are apart—that means there are two sets of strengths, and both need to be appreciated.

Learn where your differences create difficulty and work together at these areas. Do we see our differences as an opportunity for developing deeper unity and harmony or an opportunity to fight? Will we learn to work to each other’s strengths, anticipating the conflicts of interest and working around them?

Admit where these differences challenge you to grow. God uses the differences in our spouses to expose our own flaws, pride, impatience and many other sinful traits. Too often we are so busy looking at the other half with a critical eye that we don’t see where we need to grow ourselves.

Marriage is not easy. We can either attempt to muddle through on our own strength or we can look to Jesus Christ who gives strength, help and hope for broken marriages in a broken world.

October’s Verse

(From the Irish Christian Calendar 2011)

A man drowning. Not waving but drowning. Frantic. From safety a hand reaches out. Grab on! Still he thrashes. Grab on! More thrashing around—panic. Take hold! The thrashing ceases. A gradual sinking… too late, now.

Why? A voice from the depths. I didn’t need rescued. Not by him. I was doing fine myself. I couldn’t admit that he was right. It would cost too much. I’d lose face. What would my family think—rescued by him. Just pride. Pride. And fear. Fear of what? Not drowning. People. Opinions. Talk. Just pride really.

And where has it got me?

“These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” – John 5:39-40

Haunting words from Jesus Christ. In Ireland we have the scripture in Irish and English and many other languages. It’s only a click away on the internet, a step away on a shelf or cupboard, a walk away in Easons or other bookshops.

But it’s not the having that counts, it’s our hearts—
“yet you refuse.”

Haunting words. Words that will haunt for all eternity. French philosopher John Paul Sartre said, “Hell is other people”. He was wrong. Part of Hell will be ourselves. Our own memories—recriminating, accusing, “I had the message, yet I refused it. I had the opportunity and I refused. Why O why did I not take it? How could I have been so stubborn, so proud, so fearful of others’ opinion?”

Haunting words, for our attitude to Jesus in this life determines the next. If we accept him in this life he will accept us in the next. If we refuse him in this life, he will refuse us in the next. It is not our actions or our good lives, but our acceptance or refusal of Jesus’ salvation that determines it.

And one of the staggering things about Jesus’ statement is that he spoke it to the devoutly religious of his day, even to people who
‘diligently study the Scriptures’ (John 5:39). They thought that by reading and keeping commands they were in. Jesus says that it’s about more than the commands. It is about him—‘testify about me…come to me’. You can come so close, and still refuse the hand that reaches out.

You who read this column, thank you for reading, but can I ask “Have you got Him?” Or is something causing you to hold back, as yet, refusing to come to him that you may have life?

Haunting words. May they haunt you here, so that they do not haunt you there.

The Four Horsemen of Divorce

Malcolm Gladwell in his book Blink quotes University of Washington psychologist John Gottman who studies couples and their interactions. For years he has taped couples chatting about topics and studied a whole range of indicators from the tiny facial movements to posture to tone to verbal content. Piecing it all together after watching and analysing an hour of conversation on any subject between husband and wife, he is able to predict with 95% accuracy whether or not they will be married in 15 years or not.

Watching only 15 minutes still allowed him to predict with 90% accuracy. In fact, watching only 3 minutes of a conversation contains enough clues.

That’s phenomenal—especially when you take into account that when they gave the same tapes to 200 psychiatrists and marriage counsellors they had only a 54% success rate of predicting success or failure—little better than tossing a coin.

But Gottman is able to narrow it down even further. Amidst all the welter of data about a marriage there are four key factors—Four Horsemen he calls them—that are signs that a marriage is in a critical situation.

The Four Horsemen are criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling and contempt.

Criticism—“You don’t appreciate me”, “You never do anything about this place”, “You’re stupid/ugly/lazy.” Personal generalised sweeping statements that aren’t designed to be helpful, just to hurt.

Defensiveness—It’s often the response to criticism, you know how it goes, you’re in the wrong, but you won’t admit it. She says “You never take the bin out” and you retort with “I would do, but you never put anything in it, just leave it lying around here looking like a tip.” “You’re always in a foul mood”—“That’s ’cos I’m married to you.” And so on—excuses and blame-shifting are the order of the day.

Stonewalling—Another response to either legitimate issues, or to illegitimate criticism. There is no spitefulness, just a tuning out. 85% of time it’s the husband. He hears the issue and refuses to engage—sighs and changes channel, or walks out of the room or house. It says, “I don’t rate your opinion, I don’t rate this as an issue worth my time or effort to solve. I’m done.” It’s unspoken contempt.

Contempt—The insult, the name-call, a sneer, the mocking taunt, the rolling of eyes, scorn, treating your spouse with disdain in front of family or friends. They all communicate disgust. The aim is simply to belittle, to score points.

Of the four, Gottman says contempt is the worst. You might have thought it would be criticism. Criticism is about what a person does, and will cause them to react defensively, but contempt displays disgust for who a person actually is.

Where’s your marriage at? Do any of the horsemen inhabit your home? The good news is that it isn’t too late. Hard work will need to be done—the hard work of repentance and forgiveness. But we need to start with the vertical relationship between us and God—with repentance and forgiveness from Jesus—then we find him enabling us to repent and forgive each other on a horizontal level, and our marriages transformed and relationships healed.

What do children really want?

How do you satisfy that small person who just doesn’t seem to be happy? “What more can I give them?” the frustrated parent cries when they feel they aren’t doing enough. Phrases like “You never wanted for anything” ring out from parents to ‘unappreciative’ youngsters.

A UNICEF report on the well-being of children delivered a shock for UK parents last week as the UK came in bottom of a league of 21 nations for happiness among its children. The BBC summed it up succinctly: “Our children need time not stuff”.

Although it’s about the UK, I wonder how much of these home truths apply to Ireland too. We may have come a little late to the economic prosperity party, but we jumped in well and truly once it arrived. Suddenly there were jobs, more hours, more work. Let’s work more, buy bigger houses, go on better holidays. Now they are gone, but the mindset lingers.

We are caught up in a world where we get our sense of identity from our work, or what we purchase with the money we earn, and we impose these values on our children—expecting them to be satisfied with possessions too.

We come home from work, tired and frustrated because we didn’t get any deep sense of satisfaction from it, we feel deeply in need of some time to ourselves—after all, “We’ve earned it”. And there is a little person, whom we brought into the world, who is hardwired for time with us, waiting—and all we can see is an interruption, a nuisance, another person needing our attention. So we send them to play with the expensive toys we bought them, or to park themselves in front of the TV to watch another DVD we purchased for them, not really because we love them, but because we love ourselves and want some time for ourselves.

UNICEF paints a picture of a country that has got its priorities wrong—trading quality time with our children for cupboards full of expensive toys that aren't used.

Dr Tessa Livingstone writes on the Daily Telegraph’s website:

‘The average 10-year-old can name-check 400 brands and is increasingly likely to use them to measure self-worth. British children are inundated with presents. There is £7.3 billion worth of goods in children’s bedrooms.

‘I remember talking to an unemployed father whose wish was to be able to give his son a games console and other presents. I asked whether he played with his son: “I only want to give him something. It’s my job to give the kids what they want, not to do anything else.” That’s what being a successful dad was to him.’

UNICEF found that Spanish and Swedish children have more contact time with their families and rarely buy into the consumerist dream. Sadly we give less time and buy more.

“What more can I give you?”—the answer is ‘Yourself’.
“You never wanted for anything”—yes, in fact, they wanted, but didn’t get time with their parents.

“Children are an inheritance from the LORD, offspring a reward from him.” (Psalm 127:3) One day we will have to give account of what we did, and how we raised the children God has given to us.

Love is…

Do you remember those cheesy cards that had the little cherubic boy and girl looking slightly wistfully at each other and slightly embarrassed, with the slogan “Love is…”?

I’ve been reading a book on marriage recently and came across a list of definitions of the kind of love that marriage requires. We live in a world where people believe that the emotional feelings they mistake for love are enough to hold a marriage together. Instead marriage is a commitment of the will (although not devoid of emotion!) to the good of the other—for better, for worse etc.

Here are some of Paul Tripp’s definitions of the love that is called for both in husbands and in wives. They’ll probably not make it as far as the card shop, or grace a range of fridge magnets, but they will doubtless help form the basis of lasting marriages.

“Love is being willing to have your life complicated by the needs and struggles of your husband or wife without impatience or anger”—Is your marriage just about having someone there for you when you need them, or are you prepared to serve them and their needs?

“Love is being unwilling to make any personal decision or choice that would harm your marriage, hurt your husband or wife, or weaken the bond of trust between you.”

“Love is the willingness to make regular and costly sacrifices for the sake of your marriage without asking anything in return or using your sacrifices to place your spouse in your debt”— Love requires us to say no to our selfish instincts, and to look for specific ways to serve, support, and encourage, even when busy or tired, without saying “look at all I’ve done for you”.

“Love is staying faithful to your commitment to treat your spouse with appreciation, respect, and grace, even in moments when he or she doesn’t seem to deserve it or is unwilling to reciprocate”—Lovey dovey conversation is all fine over a romantic dinner, but what is the conversation like when the dinner is burnt, the car has a fresh dent, and tempers are running high? Love means speaking kindly and gently, even in moments of disagreement, refusing to attack your spouse’s character or assault their intelligence.

“Love is being unwilling to flatter, lie, or manipulate, in any way in order to co-opt your spouse into giving you what you want or doing something your way”—The foundation of a marriage is where both partners trust that the other loves them enough to want what is best for them.

“Love is always being willing to ask for forgiveness and always being committed to grant forgiveness when it is requested.”

It’s a high standard, and one we have drifted far from. But it’s not possible simply to try harder in order to improve our marriages. We need more—we need to have experienced ourselves what unconditional, sacrificial, forgiving, servant love is like. And the only place to find that is in Jesus Christ.

(Quotes taken from Paul Tripp “What did you expect - Redeeming the Realities of Marriage”)

Christianity and Culture

We live in a so-called Christian culture. What precisely does that mean? It’s not simply a statement about our religious beliefs. Witness the recent shootings in Norway where the assailant claimed he was a Christian, but stated that he had no personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Rather than being a religious Christian, he saw himself as a cultural Christian—ie. he liked the morals (apart, apparently, from the command not to murder) and the Christian heritage of Europe.

In his, as in many others’ minds, Christianity is far wider than a set of religious beliefs—so wide in fact that it could even be disconnected from the religious beliefs themselves.

What has this got to with Ireland? We have our own set of cultures—Catholic and Protestant—both claiming Christianity. It strikes me that both have broadened out their definition from their initial religious one to a much broader cultural one.

To be a Catholic or a Protestant is much more than a set of religious beliefs. It is a whole cultural package made up of different strands—from politics (nationalist or unionist), to our view of history (invaded or rightful settlers), right down through to sport (GAA or rugby) and music (uillean pipes or flute bands). And somewhere occasionally in the mix there is our religious belief (Catholic or Protestant). I’m generalising of course, but generally that’s the case.

But it is the religious labels that have become the focal point of crystallisation of these cultures—every strand of the culture hangs on either one of these labels. The religious component has become the dominant label even when it is not the main component. It was not always so, nor is it helpful on many levels. But the level that concerns me is the spiritual level.

We have simplified society in Ireland into these two categories, such that to be a good protestant or a good catholic is less about what you believe religiously and more about your politics, your clan, and your social preferences. There are plenty of people who consider themselves Protestant or Catholic who know exactly where they stand on history, politics and culture, but have little concept of what they are meant to believe religiously.

This is a tragedy because eternity hangs, not on our political or cultural preferences, but on the content of what we believe—the very area where we assume the most, but perhaps question or even know the least.

True Christianity is above culture. To be a Christian isn’t making a statement about our politics, or history, or culture—although Christianity will impact these areas for good. It is simply about our relationship with God.

You can have a right relationship with God and retain your politics, history, music, sport etc. We Irish people, whether from Protestant or Catholic backgrounds, need to look beyond the confines of our culture, and make sure that our relationship with God is based on God’s terms not our culture’s.

April's Verse - Living and Active

Why bother reading the bible? Surely we can find a way that is more interesting and more fun to spend our time? Why all the focus on a fusty, millennia old book? Well, because frankly, it's much more than just a book.

The verse on the calendar for this month describes it well. It says: “For the word of God is living and active” (Hebrews 4:12) This is a book unlike any other. Whenever someone reads the bible, they aren't just filling their minds with information; there's a real change in the reader - God's word has a transforming effect.

This effect isn't always an enjoyable one. God sometimes uses the bible as a spotlight, highlighting our shortcomings, and putting the focus squarely on our sin. He causes us to look past our respectable exteriors and straight into the darkest recesses of our hearts. And if we're honest with ourselves, we won't like what we see.

But the bible doesn't stop there. It's good news. It's just that sometimes to see the good news, we have to grasp the bad. The bible exposes our problem - that our sins alienate us from God - but it also points us to the solution. The bible tells us about Jesus, who has done everything necessary to remove the sin-stain.

It's much more than a book. It's living and it's active. It's God's gift for his people, one of the ways he supports us in a sometimes dark and distressing world. It gives comfort to the despairing, guidance to the uncertain, correction to the mistaken, and encouragement to the worn down

Ask any Christian you know, and I'm sure they'll be able to share their experiences of the bible. They'll be able to tell you how reading it has helped them, how they've found God's word to be a gold mine of wisdom, and a rich source of joy.

God has given us a wonderful gift. It would be a tragedy to leave it unused.

Counting Chickens

There are few things that bring a deeper sense of satisfaction to Irish rugby fans than beating England. Except thwarting English Grand Slam dreams. Apologies to any English readers—but that’s just the way it is.

Ireland’s barnstorming 24-8 defeat of England on Saturday, ended England’s dreams of their first Grand Slam since the World Cup winning year of 2003.

Only one thing makes it better—I just saw a video today that Nike had prepared in the event that England would win. It was part of a whole advertising campaign, planned to burst onto screens at Waterloo, Kings Cross, Euston and Charing Cross train stations at the final whistle. Commemorative T-shirts with 'Grand Slam Champions 2011', the one-word mission statement 'Onwards' and a red rose also had to be shelved. Or perhaps just binned.

A Nike spokesman said: "We commissioned a celebration T-shirt and a video featuring the players, as we obviously need to plan ahead… perhaps the lesson is to be less optimistic in our internal communications."

In other news—the BBC website has an item announcing “A study using census data from nine countries shows that religion there is set for extinction”. Apparently the option on census forms to indicate that you are ‘not affiliated with any religious group’ is gaining in popularity, and statisticians are using it to predict the decline and death of religion. I was somewhat disappointed that the article didn’t give a specific deadline because I was hoping that Nike might produce another set of bin-able commemorative T-shirts for the event!

Both items bring to mind Mark Twain’s response to his premature obituary notice, “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated”.

Jesus said that he would build his church and that even Hell itself wouldn’t be able to resist the spread of the gospel. So while the number of those who show an external or nominal adherence to various religious entities may be on the decline, Christianity itself will not die out. Jesus has guaranteed its existence until he returns, and he has a good track record of keeping his promises—including coming back from the dead.

And if you are looking for a winning side to celebrate with, you can do no better than to trust in Jesus. Christians are not waiting to see if he will win, for he won at the cross. The final whistle has gone. All that is happening now is like that moment after a match when one side hasn’t heard the whistle and plays fruitlessly on seeking for a victory they can never have. Christians are waiting for him to step out onto the pitch and to lead his people in their lap of victory. And you have an opportunity to join the winning side while there is time.

Anything else is counting chickens before they are hatched.

Earthquakes and Tsunamis

Just last month it was New Zealand, now this week Japan suffered catastrophic damage at the hands of an earthquake and tsunami. Tens of thousands are dead or missing, entire towns have been wiped out, nuclear reactors are dangerously unstable.

One again we are saddened at the colossal loss of life; once again we extend our sympathy and our resources. And once again the perennial question raises its head: Why does God allow such events to happen?

Often suffering is preesented as an argument against God—how could there be a God when this happens? Yet when we read the Bible we see that suffering isn’t a surprise, but is part of God’s on-going judgment on, and wake-up call to, a world that refuses to listen to his more gentle voices—the voices of creation, conscience, Christians, preachers, God’s word, and even the voice of pleasure. If the Bible promised happiness peace and geological stability then we would have a case against God—but it speaks of quite the opposite.

That’s not to say that Japan was any more deserving than anywhere else—Ireland for example. The question isn’t why did it happen to New Zealand, Haiti or Japan, but why didn’t it happen to us?

We make many wrong assumptions: we assume that God owes us happiness when in fact he owes us judgment for we have lived on his planet, defying and ignoring him; we presume that mankind is innocent when in fact we are guilty. A more humble and biblical question is not, “How can God allow suffering”, but “Why does a holy God put up with us for so long and allow so much happiness in our lives?”

What if God had continually warned and spoken to mankind, urging them that there is more at stake than simply this short life, and that there is an eternity to be gained and a Hell to be avoided; and what if, despite his repeated warnings at increasing levels of volume, nobody listened; what would we expect him to do?

Each of these disasters is a mini reminder that God is serious when he says that he will judge sin, that he will not continue to let us plug our ears with the pleasures of life in order to drown out the warning voices.

Events such as this should not cause us to stand erect and proud, shaking our tiny fist at God, but cause us to fall to our knees in humility and ask for forgiveness for we too deserve judgment. That was Jesus’ response when asked about a similar situation:

“What about those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” Luke 13:4,5

A Checklist for Genuine Christianity

I got a new set of earphones recently for my iPod. Looking at the reviews on Amazon I kept seeing the warning ‘Beware of fakes’. So wondering whether mine were genuine I went looking and came across a website that did photo comparisons between genuine and counterfeit earphones. After looking at the telltale signs I was satisfied that mine were the real deal. But not everything that says Sennheiser on the outside is Sennheiser on the inside.

That applies to Christianity too. There is such a wide variety that hangs out under the umbrella name of Christianity that it can be hard to know what’s genuine. Turn on the satellite tv stations and there are several religious channels; walk through most towns and you will be confronted with different churches; different groups may arrive at your door—all these claiming to be Christian. On top of that, the broad ethos of our culture is allegedly Christian.

But not all that comes under the brand name of Christian is in fact Christian. All of this makes for confusion on a vitally important subject. What are the hallmarks of genuine Christianity? How can you be able to tell if what you are hearing or seeing is the real deal? Here’s a checklist of some (not all) of the telltale signs of genuine Christianity.

1. It’s about Jesus Christ – not surprisingly Christ-ianity is and should be about Christ. But surprisingly he gets sidelined, or just simply replaced in many churches. Although Jesus may get a mention, other topics eg. health, wealth, behaviour, social issues get the lion’s share of the attention, or other religious or biblical characters receive more focus. Genuine Christianity is all about Jesus.

2. It’s about what Jesus did at the Cross – Jesus didn’t come primarily to be a good example or a great teacher. He came to die so that we could be forgiven. It is at the Cross that forgiveness is found, not in anything else—eg. keeping rituals or rules.

3. It’s about salvation being a free gift, not a reward for good behaviour. This is the acid test of genuine Christian teaching. The Bible teaches that we aren’t good enough to impress God—even our best and most religious acts fall far short. Salvation is something that God accomplishes and offers to those who will acknowledge that they are sinners, accept his gift of forgiveness and put their trust solely in what Jesus did at the cross.

These are only three, but they should help you assess what you are hearing. Make sure it’s the genuine article.


I’ve just finished reading Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand—in a word (albeit made-up), it is unputdownable. Reviews on Amazon speak of staying up all night to get it finished. A friend of mine did likewise starting it one morning and not stopping until late evening. I had to exercise a little more discipline, but it was hard.

From the author of Seabiscuit, which was recently made into a film, comes an incredible story of ‘survival, resilience, and redemption’ to quote the tagline. One May afternoon in 1943, an American B-24 bomber crashes into the Pacific Ocean and disappears; only three crew escape—one of which is Louis Zamperini. And so begins one of the most extraordinary odysseys of the Second World War.

Zamperini stole and fought his way through childhood. His older brother Pete encouraged him to take up running, and Louis becomes one of the fastest men in the world, a man likely to have broken the 4 minute mile mark long before Roger Bannister’s 1954 triumph. All that is interrupted by the war, which finds Louis breaking more records as they struggle for survival adrift in the Pacific for an incredible 47 days.

After fighting off madness, starvation, thirst, leaping sharks who sought a tasty morsel, and coping with enemy planes shooting at them, he and his pilot are eventually picked up by the Japanese. And then the real story starts.

The brutality of the Japanese POW camps is sadly legendary and Louis, because of his fame and perhaps too his stubborn refusal to be broken, became a target for extra savage treatment at the hands of one particular guard.

Louis survives the camps, returns home to his family, who although told he was dead refused to believe it. But even this isn’t a happy ending. The title of the book isn’t quite accurate: Louis is eventually broken, not by the camps, but by the aftermath. Like many POWs the trauma of returning is too much—he suffers horrifying flashbacks, attempts to drown his memories with alcohol, and watches as his marriage disintegrates.

It is here that the book reaches its climax. It is in this context that this broken man finds himself being remade, set free by a power much greater than his own rugged determination. At a meeting Billy Graham was speaking at, Zamperini finds that ultimate redemption that only God can give. So powerful was this that he was transformed, his marriage rescued, his flashbacks gone, and he travelled to Japan to meet his former guards—to embrace them, and to speak to them of the forgiveness he had found and that they needed.

It put me in mind of a verse in the Bible - "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come." (2 Cor 5:17)

It’s no surprise that this book was named by Time magazine as its top book of 2010, and still sits at the top of the New York Times bestseller list. This book is a perfect read for virtually anyone—even if you aren't drawn to war stories, I suspect that you will find yourself engrossed in this captivating tale of a struggle for survival and much more.

What way would Jesus vote?

In the midst of the constant election news bulletins and political analysis, there is one key issue that has largely been overlooked. How committed are the parties to upholding our constitution?

You probably weren’t expecting that question, given the title! Yet it is an important question. The introduction to the constitution is interesting. It begins: “
In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from whom is all authority and to whom, as our final end, all actions both of men and states must be referred, We, the people of Éire, humbly acknowledging all our obligations to our Divine Lord, Jesus Christ...”

This introduction sets the framework in which our Constitution sits. It is a foundational acknowledgment as to how our nation is to be run and it recognises that neither the Taoiseach nor the government have ultimate authority. Jesus Christ has. This is entirely consistent with the Bible, which describes Jesus as king over all the earth. He is the creator, and it is the duty of men and women everywhere to obey his wise instructions.

But sadly this key section of the constitution is ignored, to the detriment of our country. We ought to value the decrees that Jesus has given us. They're for our good. They protect the vulnerable in society – the unborn, the poor, the widowed and the sick. They legislate against behaviour that blights Ireland today – greed, exploitation and drunkenness. And they uphold one of the key building blocks of a functioning society – the family.

As individuals, we have a key responsibility next Friday. The ordinary person has an opportunity to shape the future of this country. We need to vote wisely. The key issue facing this country is not the economy, nor the state of our hospitals or schools. The most important issue is how our potential leaders respond to the authority of Jesus Christ.

We should elect those who take their constitutional obligation seriously – who recognise that God’s word is important for governments. We should compare candidates and their policies to the Bible's teaching. Are they in favour of liberalising abortion, or do they want to protect the most vulnerable? Do they favour the wealthy and influential, or do they defend the weak? Do they uphold marriage as between one man and one woman for life? Do they show themselves to be people of integrity in their private lives?

Our constitution has the finest foundation of any modern country, because it understands who is in charge. Let us do our best to cling to this rich heritage.

Gary Moore – Legendary Guitarist

I was saddened to hear on Sunday evening of the death of former Thin Lizzy guitarist Gary Moore. Moore was a maestro on the guitar, bridging a vast array of musical genres. He played, not just superbly, but with what is rare in many rock guitarists—emotion. He could make the guitar weep, and you with it. His playing, particularly of his epic guitar solos, seemed to reach deep inside you and connect. There was something cathartic about it. Like David playing the harp for Saul (see 1 Samuel 16) his music had the power to smooth the troubled heart.

His instrumental piece The Loner, is a masterpiece, superseded I think only by ‘The Messiah Will Come Again’. If you haven’t heard either, go and look them up on YouTube. As you would expect, when I first saw the title ‘The Messiah will come again’ I was intrigued and poked around on the web. Roy Buchanan, one of the unrecognised guitar greats, originally wrote the piece. Buchanan struggled with an alcohol problem and the lyrics he speaks before launching into the guitar solo reflect something of his inner turmoil:

Just a smile, just a glance
The Prince of Darkness
He just walked past
There's been a lot of people
And they've had a lot to say
But this time I'm gonna tell it my way:

There was a town
A strange little town, they called 'The World'
A lonely, lonely little town
'Till one day a stranger appeared
And their hearts rejoiced, and the sad little town was happy again
But there were some that doubted; they disbelieved, so they mocked him
And the stranger, he went away
Now the sad little town that was sad yesterday
It’s a lot sadder today.

I walked in a lot of places I never should have been
But I know that the Messiah, he will come again…

I don’t know what engulfing bleakness Buchanan experienced that caused him to write this, but, intentionally or unintentionally, it hits the nail on the head. The cathartic cleansing and hope that he, and later on Moore, pump into the subsequent guitar solo is found not simply in music, which can provide only a temporary and superficial relief, but is found completely in the Messiah that the closing line speaks of. When we know we’ve walked in a lot of places we never should have been, cleansing and forgiveness are found in the Messiah. Jesus. When the blackness engulfs us, or when the broken sadness of this world hits us, hope is found in trusting the Messiah who will come again to put all things to right.

We need not simply to let music soothe the trouble within, but to look to the God who gave us Moore and Buchanan for fuller and more lasting comfort. So I thank God for Gary Moore, but I thank him all the more for the Messiah who will come again.

February’s Verse

We live in a world where there is a constant din and hubbub of competing voices offering advice on what life is about and how to live it—self help groups, life coaches, tv talk shows, the list goes on. But theories change, one guru contradicts another—are we left just to find our own truth, surely there has to be something better than that?

Like last year, our church and Letterkenny Baptist church gave out a calendar around Letterkenny. The verses on this year’s calendar are all about God’s word. February’s verse points us to the answer to our questions:

“Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him” – Proverbs 30:5

Perhaps we regard such a claim with jaded cynicism, we’ve been stung once to often, and we won’t get caught again. This verse is from the book of Proverbs in the Bible—a collection of sayings put together by King Solomon, many of them his own, some collected from other sources. Solomon’s sayings aren’t the trite little phrases of a naïve young fool; instead they were put together towards the end of his life as a gift for his sons, passing on lessons that he wanted them to learn. In particular they were lessons he had tried and tested, lessons from his experience, rather than simply grandiose claims.

Solomon had been around enough corners in life, and tried to find his pleasure and purpose in all the wrong places, and it is his conclusion that all the promises of wealth, fame, pleasure are worthless—there is only one set of promises that are flawless and they come from God. He had tasted sorrow as well as success, and found only one certain refuge, one stronghold that could keep him going—God’s word.

So this verse isn’t just a nice sentiment, but the words of a craggy-faced old man, who had experienced all of life, wanting to pass on to succeeding generations something worthwhile that he had learned from it all. He had tested other words and ways to live, and they had failed, and he had returned to the ways God set down in his word. And his advice to us, ringing down through the centuries is that God’s word is to be trusted and followed, for in it you find the way to safety and security in a world of uncertainty.

The sad thing I find is that many people leave the Bible unread, and spend their lives searching in the wrong places for the security and refuge that only it flawlessly promises.

Looking to the stars

This time two weeks ago, few people had heard of Professor Parke Kunkle. He’s an astronomy professor in the US who has sparked off panicked scenes all across the world. It began two weeks ago as Mr Kunkle appeared on NBC, talking about his work. Over the course of the interview, he alluded to a phenomenon known “precession”, which, in non-astronomer’s terms, means the earth wobbles as it rotates.

This change in the rotation of the Earth is too small to notice, but over time it can cause some dramatic changes. And one of these changes has sparked a panic. The stars have moved. At least from our perspective here on Earth, the stars are no longer where they should be. And as a result, there is frenzied speculation that for centuries, the entire horoscope system has been wrong.

Some astrologers have hit back, saying that this doesn’t really change how horoscopes are calculated here in the Western World, but they haven’t managed to calm the storm. A lot of people are very worried. Calls and emails have been flooding in as stressed out clients look for reassurance. Add in the widely held belief that there are in fact 13 Zodiac signs, rather than 12, and the entire “science” looks very unreliable indeed.

Spare a thought for the 26 year-old Canadian who has sported a prominent Aries tattoo for several years. If Professor Kunkle is right, she’s no longer even an Aries. Her story may be fairly extreme, but it’s far from unique. On a smaller scale, millions of people must now face the possibility that they’ve been looking at the wrong section of the chart for a very long time.

Hopefully, this will destroy people’s faith in horoscopes. They’re dangerous—people look to them for guidance about serious, life changing decisions, and apply the vague, meaningless statements to their lives. A humourous example is Raymond Domenech, the former French football manager who exiled talented Scorpios from his side, and professes a distrust of Leos. His wacky methodology turned a team of world-beaters into a worldwide laughing stock.

We need a better guide than his; something that offers more than vague, inconsequential drivel. We need a guide that tells us our problem and how we can deal with it; something that isn’t undermined by the rotation of the Earth and that doesn’t change.

If you’ve been in the habit of reading your stars, why not start reading the word of the one who made the stars. The Bible is God’s unchanging, but ever relevant guide to daily living and to the future. There you will find hope, peace, and most of all a forgiving relationship that will never end.