The culture is yelling at my friends

In fact, the culture is yelling at everybody. But one of its most strident yells is about the “idolatry of Eros”, as Vaughan Roberts calls it in his excellent book True Friendship.

It’s yelling, “Get your worship of the god Eros organised properly and then we’ll see if there’s any room for Jesus”. That’s hurtful, especially if you’re single and a follower of Jesus, like a lot of my friends are. And it’s hurtful if you’re single and experience same-sex attraction, like some of my friends are.

Here’s a reply to the god Eros: “There’s such a thing as friendship, deep friendship – especially if you have as much in common as followers of Jesus do”.

On 17th October here in Dublin I will be attending an event by friends from “Living Out” who are offering training to Christian leaders is how to help same-sex attracted people who are also following Jesus. I want to be good at being a friend. Register here if you’d like to join me.

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Living and Telling

It changed my life. And I don’t usually talk like that. But it’s true – the basic Agape training, “Living and Telling” showed me how I could trust God to fill me with his Spirit in normal day-to-day life, enabling me to share my faith in Jesus with those I run into.
It’s worth saying what the Living and Telling course didn’t do1 LTtotalIt didn’t make me into an evangelist. Being an evangelist is a special gift which the Holy Spirit picks some people for and it turns out I’m not one of them.

So here’s what the training did do:
1. It showed me God’s forgiveness is available to me on a daily basis – moment-by-moment basis actually. Christ will never say to me, “you’ve used up all your grace tokens”.
2. It helped me through three sonic booms that my conversations were getting stuck at – *talking at all, *talking about Jesus (not just religion) and *popping the question “Ready to trust Jesus yet? – or are you still thinking about it?”
3. It defined success for me. Success in witnessing is simply share your faith in Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit and leaving the results to God.
We’re running the training in Dublin again on 13th -14th September (€30 for the two days – Friday evening through to Saturday evening). I’ll be there again. Wild horses wouldn’t keep me away. Can you come? Tickets available here

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10 questions on leaving the convent

I came out of a convent last month. Actually I was only in there for three days in total. I go there (Ballyvaloo) every year to think and pray and plan a little (I keep going back because the nuns are so kind to me). When I’m there I ask myself questions – just like a coach would do. I thought you might find these ten questions useful too – so here they are:

NUMBER TEN In secondary school what did you dream of becoming as an adult?

As it happens, just a few days ago I was moving old books around in my study and I found my diary from 1965 – so now I know the answer to this question. It sobers me.

NUMBER NINE. As you review your life, what noble cause have you championed?

There are certainly causes I have been worked up about – but which of them is noble? That should be the principle worthy of on-going attention.

NUMBER EIGHT. What do you never seem to have time to do?

It could be that you don’thave time because it’s a silly little side-interest. But if you keep grieving its loss maybe you’re being convicted to adjust your priorities.

NUMBER SEVEN. What training (formal or informal) is available in the big thing that captures your interest?

Nobody ever said you have to stop learning. It would be odd if there’s no way you could be trained further in your heart-felt hobby-horse.

NUMBER SIX. You suddenly come alive when you do some things – what are they?

Is there anything you can do all day long and not get tired? That’s a big pointer to the way God has hard-wired you.

NUMBER FIVE. What major set-back brought out the best in you?

When I was 21 I had all kinds of ideas about what I could do. They say that life’s a marathon but it looks awfully like an obstacle race. Each obstacle which you negotiate may cost you one of your many ideas but it will also reinforce and strengthen those things you know you will never drop.

 NUMBER FOUR. Is there someone you could shadow or assist for a while who has the same passion as you?

Are you the only one? Unless you’re Einstein surely somebody, somewhere has the same driving instinct.

NUMBER THREE. Is it worth the risk to work mostly on things that will make a great deal of difference if you succeed?

Can you see through the latest swirl of your circumstances clearly enough to put your finger on those few things that would make a great deal of difference? Once you can see them write them down and tell someone else – otherwise you might doubt in the darkness what God has shown you in the light.

NUMBER TWO. What would need to change if you were to spend 80% of your time on your one big passion?

You know, and I know, that upping the working time you spend on the Big Thing to 80% is a not just a change in thinking but a change in your daily habits. Psychologists say that it takes 40 days to change a habit. But go easy on yourself – start with one determinative thing that you can change sustainably.

…and the big NUMBER ONE What were you born to do?

If you don’t already know the answer ask yourself if anyone has ever said to you, ‘You were born to do this”? What was that?

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Four Reasons it’s High Time to Brush up Your Bible

It’s time to brush up your Bible – you don’t want to get spiritually skinny just because your diet is restricted to pre-digested food. But why bother? Here are four reasons:

1. You need to feed your own soul. So do I. We can get some second-hand food from church and that’s no bad thing. I cannot, however, go to the Judgment Seat of Christ and say, “I never got fed properly” when there is more than one Bible on the shelf just to the left of this laptop. It’s like they say on the aeroplanes – “put on your own face-mask first before you attempt to help other passengers”.

2. Your kids (if you’ve got any) deserve the best spiritual training you can give them. For their sake you need to get good at this.

3. Whether or not you have kids, you can have disciples (they are, after all, just other people’s kids). Do they see you study the Word? Do you ever tell them what you are studying?

4. Your unbelievers need you – those you know and those you haven’t met yet, seekers and non-seekers. The arena in which we are called to live our daily lives is not one where people will run into the Bible in the normal course of events. When someone asks a spiritual question and you haven’t a clue – remember, there isn’t a pastor on hand to facilitate things. Often if you don’t answer it, it won’t get answered. But don’t turn around at that moment and look for a pastor to answer the question. You’re the pastor. Even when you say “I don’t know – I’ll get back to you on that” – it’s Bible homework time.
One way to brush up your Bible is at the Agapé Biblical Studies conference in the wonderful Lucan Centre 20-25 August. First begun in 1974 to equip Agapé staff, the week’s training can now be used by anyone who would like to develop first-hand skills in Biblical study. This year’s speakers – Dr David Shepherd, David Wilson, Natalie Warren, Myles Wilson. Info from

A short form of this article appeared in

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Getting a fixed quote on the loft conversion


This month’s International Literature Festival in Dublin will be missing a book edited by Irish Times columnist Una Mullally: “Repeal the 8th”. When Martina Evans reviewed the book for the Irish Times last month she saw contributor Caitlin Moran as “striking the only discordant note” because Moran describes abortion as “incalculably more moral than bringing an unwanted child into this world”.

Actually, a discordant morality note is also struck by other contributors. In fact Colm O’Gorman’s whole chapter is entitled “We will win because we have truth and right on our side”. It is discordant because the various authors don’t use the same basis for their morality. O’Gorman’s morality seems to be driven by particular UN treaty bodies that can override “tensions arising from differences over…social or moral norms”. For Moran it is her own “conscious mind” – she elevates some of her opinions to the level of “genuinely sacred”. For one of her friends (“Rachel”) the moral basis for her abortion appears to be simple convenience, “It’s one of the top four best things I ever did – after marrying my husband, having my son and getting a fixed quote on the loft conversion”.

Somebody, somewhere needs to say what their objective basis for “truth”, “right” and “morality” is. Unless we’re all (babies, children and adults) “clumps of cells” there must be a God who made us the way we are and can give us more nuanced, and less clumsy, moral guidelines.

Some of my friends tell me not to mention my belief in God in my support for retaining the Eighth Amendment. But I want a good basis for human dignity, for compassion, for respect. After searching as diligently as I know how, I cannot find more compassionate guidelines than the life, teaching and example of Jesus of Nazareth.

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Andrew deals with the Elephant in the “Acts” sitting room

Monday 16th April, Andrew Brunson will go on trial in the Turkish city of İzmir, for being a follower of Jesus. Of course, that not how they’re framing it. Instead they’re charging him with being an “executive” of a terrorist movement which suits them because he is a foreigner and therefore regarded as a bargaining chip. Up to his formal indictment in March he was held without charge for 17 months.

Church in Chains, the Irish organisation supporting persecuted Christians, reports that Andrew’s daughter Jacqueline described the allegations as “absurd”. She  said, “My father is a peaceful pastor. My family loves and respects the Turkish people, and my father has been dedicated to serving them for over two decades.”

Precisely because he is a Bible-believing Christian, Andrew has an advantage. Right there in prison he will still remember that the ancient name for İzmir is “Smyrna”, which appears towards the end of the Bible (in Revelation chapter 2) as a symbol of difficult persecution. And Smyrna was just the latest in a long line of persecutions endured by the 1st century Christians.

Somehow this issue gets missed when missiologists study the “Acts of the Apostles” as a handy-dandy movement manual.  That’s because we seem to suffer from a kind of snow-blindness that causes us to pay no attention whatsoever to one of the early church’s main driving forces – persecution.  It’s the elephant in the Acts sitting room.

Did all this first century persecution turn them into a group of grumpy old men?  Far from it.  They “rejoiced because they were counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts chapter 5).  No persecution complex for them!

But look closer at the locations of early persecution (and Andrew, as a lover of Turkey, will know this too) – a lot of it was in (modern-day) Turkey. In the Anatolia city of Lystra they stoned St Paul, dragged him outside the city and left him for dead.

So did that finish the Turkish church? Quite the opposite! The disciples were first called “Christians” in Turkey (in Antakya). The apostle Paul himself was born in the Çukurova region (in Tarsus). Timothy was from Anatolia.

And it was in Turkey that the following centuries saw the construction of the biggest church building in the world for a thousand years!

We’re proud of you Andrew. You are in distinguished company. You are much more valuable than an bargaining chip in geo-politics.

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Pro Life is a Gospel Issue

Shortly our Government will ask us what we think about the Eighth Amendment and what we think about legislating for abortion. As Christian believers, we need to have our homework done on this subject.

The actual word “abortion” isn’t in the Bible but what is in the Bible is massively helpful to us. The Old Testament deals with the death of unborn children. Causing a woman to miscarry carried a special penalty (Exodus 21:22). The killing of pregnant women was a most abhorrent transgression with the even wider significance of eliminating the next generation (2 Kings 8:12; Amos 1:13).

In beautiful passages in the Psalms, God counts on the life of the yet unborn to praise him and teach his Word (Ps 22:31; 78:6). Supremely in Psalm 139, God “knit me together in my mother’s womb” and “all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be”.

The New Testament begins with two pregnancies – Elizabeth’s with John and Mary’s with Jesus. When the two women met, John jumped for joy in Elizabeth’s womb. Elizabeth explained that this was because of meeting with Mary “the mother of my Lord”. In this short passage, the personhood of both unborn babies is expressed – both of them have already been named!

The Referendum will ask us if we want to remove the current equal protection for both mother and baby. In tandem with that, we will be asked if we want to permanently hand over the destiny of unborn children to our politicians. There are certainly politicians who are upright, honourable men and women who seek the common good. But do you want to leave it to whomever turns up in Dáil Eireann in coming years to have the last word over these human life issues?

This is a gospel issue. We’re personally indebted to the grace of God and our job now is to show that grace to those others. That will include seeking the best options for vulnerable women with unplanned pregnancies – apart from abortion. John’s gospel tells us that “the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ”. The trick now is to be unyieldingly truthful while being beguilingly graceful. We love half of 1 Peter 3:15 “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have”. However, there’s another half “ …but do this with gentleness and respect”.

From Vox Magazine

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Missionaries to a New Planet

151My wife Pam and I are missionaries in Ireland – except that increasingly over the past few years that’s less and less an accurate description. Because more and more we are becoming missionaries to a new planet.

For example on Monday of last week I met a medical student called Alice who chronicled her spiritual journey, starting in primary school which was run by devout and quite strict religious teachers. This was followed by her teenage atheistic rebellion against all religion. But now she has reached her current, more placid, “believing” stage at the age of 26.

So what does she believe now? Tibetan Buddhism. Why? She thinks it’s better at looking after the poor. So we then had a conversation along the lines of, “So how’s that working out for you then?”. But her answers consistently referenced Jesus and his teaching about the poor. “The primary school must have done a good job!” she said sheepishly.

But here’s the clincher – she said that if she were to embrace Christian belief nowadays that would be looked on by her father as “a bit rebellious”. He is now a “total atheist”. His favourite authors are Christopher Hitchens (“God is not Great”) and Richard Dawkins.

We’re on a new planet where the issues to be dealt with include: equality, God’s doubtful character, gender theory, women’s reproductive rights. There are new questions like “Is Christianity actually a fake news story?”. Objective truth is seriously in question. In Oprah Winfrey’s recent Golden Globes speech she acknowledged “dedication to uncovering the absolute truth” but then said, what I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have”.

This is a job for cross-cultural missions – and now we all need to get good at it. Eddie Arthur who worked with Wycliffe Bible Translators for years expressed it well when he wrote recently on the Global Connections blog

Not so long ago, Christians tended to talk about mission as something that happened overseas, while evangelism was what we did in the UK. I know there were exceptions, but the generalisation stands. The point was that we saw Britain as having an Evangelical background; there was a cultural understanding of the faith and all we had to do was call people back to beliefs that they had abandoned. What we needed was the revival of something that was there, but dormant. However, outside of the UK on “the mission field”, people didn’t know about Christianity at all and mission work was all about starting from scratch with a non-Christian or profoundly anti-Christian population.

Although Eddie is writing about the UK this phenomenon is common across the Western world – and Ireland is an early adaptor.

During the last semester our team surveyed hundreds of students on five universities. Although 90% had a church background only 11% would think of looking to the church for any spiritual guidance. One of our staff remarked that “the church is so insignificant to them that they aren’t even anti-church”

And the good news? God is not in the least surprised by any of this and is changing lives in the midst of it all. This past week we talked to a prospective student leader who is keen to be trained in sharing her faith and ready to lead others. She was born in India, grew up in Saudi Arabia where her parents were working. Her parents got baptized in Saudi (not everybody can say that!) and after the police discovered that her father had planted a church they needed to leave and they settled in an Irish city. There they planted another church (!) where our student leader friend was baptized “along with my grandfather” she proudly told us (not many people can say that either!). Now she’s ready to lead others in knowing Christ and making him known. You couldn’t make it up in a book.

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Bugs and Planets – what’s the odds?

It was a kind relative who set me on a scientific path by giving me a chemistry set when I was about 12 years old. I soon set up a laboratory in the coal-shed at the back of our house just outside Strabane in County Tyrone. Over the next few years I precipitated beautiful crystals of copper sulphate, I made horrible smells with hydrogen sulphide, I produced hydrogen gas and lit it and lived to tell the tale – it makes a satisfying pop.

At one stage I decided to replicate Andrews Liver Salts. The list of ingredients was on the tin so I reckoned it couldn’t be that difficult to reproduce it. I sent off for the required chemicals by mail order, mixed them in the shed, drank it and lived to tell that tale too. I only told it to my parents when it was all over. But by that time I was hooked and ended up in Trinity College to study microbiology and later genetics in NUIGalway.

Although my professional gaze was into microscopes my pastime gaze was into telescopes – another inheritance from childhood. My wife and I even rigged up a telescope to project the image of the sun (rare enough in Galway) on to wall of our bedroom so we could observe the rotation of sunspots.

In all my reading of both microbiology and astronomy I found one thing in common – the scientists who knew what they were talking about said that the odds against our being here in this intricately designed universe are enormous.

Take, for example, the solar eclipse on the 21st of last month (– now there’s something I would have liked to have seen). An eclipse can only happen if the size of the sun in our sky is precisely the same as the size of the moon. And it is! What’s the likelihood of that? Tiny. The explanation – there is none. The special website set up by NASA for last month’s website simply says, “Eclipses occur due to the special coincidence of the moon and the sun being the same angular size.”

And the popular press has decided, all on their own, that despite such enormous odds simple cells somehow came together in the sea after the earth’s crust hardened. It was a doddle. And once that simple cell was formed there was no stopping the progress of life as we know it. My wife’s hairdresser certainly thinks so. When she heard that I was going to give a talk about the rarity of life and she said, “I thought all you needed on a planet was water and then life would grow”

The past 50 years of research have shown that it wasn’t a doddle, the cells couldn’t have come together by blind fate and they aren’t simple either.

Sir Fred Hoyle, Professor of Astronomy at Cambridge, calculated the odds against getting just the enzymes we need for life. He said:

“the chance of obtaining them all in a random trial is only one part in 1040,000, an outrageously small probability that could not be faced even if the whole universe consisted of organic soup”.

1040,000 is one with 40,000 noughts after it – note that this morning Paddy Power was giving the chance  that Gerry Adams would be the next Taoiseach as just one part in 100.

Professor David Block from Johannesburg puts it this way:

“even if every star in the heavens sported a planet on which life might form, still there would not be enough stars to make intelligent life a likely outcome.”

Allow yourself to think for a minute of the implications if these scientists are right. What if we didn’t get here by chance? What’s the first thought that jumps into your head?

(From “Blind Fate” at Leadership Breakfast RDS Dublin 7:30am 26th September 2017)

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Submission to the Citizens’ Assembly

I write as the father of a daughter, Siobhán, who lived only 26 days, during which she was given exemplary nursing care in Galway Regional Hospital. The same excellent level of care was given to my wife. I also write with a copy of Bunreacht na hÉireann open in front of me.

I urge the Assembly to retain the 8th Amendment to the Constitution for three basic reasons.

  1. Ethical. Unborn children are human beings. The current discussion in the higher courts has described the unborn as a “human person”. The recent rise in utilitarian ethics (e.g. by Peter Singer) has suggested someone does not become a “person” until they are considered useful. This definition is fraught with danger as the conferring of personhood is left to some third party, which would be quite repugnant to the Constitution. Just because we can take someone’s life does not mean we should.
  1. Legal. Various proposed changes to our Eighth Amendment have used comparisons with other countries. These international analogies should instead be warning signs. Notably, UK law has enabled over 90% of unborn Down Syndrome children to be aborted. Other European countries (e.g. Denmark and Iceland) are actively pursuing the elimination of all Down Syndrome cases. Even more regrettably the life of healthy unborn children in many such countries are being taken at the whim of a father or mother.
  1. Personal. Our daughter was as human as we are. She deserved the State’s protection of her right to life.
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