Life Is Precious

Last week our family attended the first birthday party of a little girl whose parents waited and longed and prayed for six long years, wondering if they would ever be able to have a child of their own. To say it was a joyful occasion is an understatement.

Also last week the Supreme Court of the United States reversed a decision from almost 50 years ago, finding that there is not actually a right to abortion in the US constitution, so individual states are free to legislate as they please on the issue. Some states have kept abortion legal, others have not. Some people rejoiced, others mourned. Some said the judgment was a gain for life, others that it was a loss for personal autonomy.

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Hand-Crafted

A few months ago I was on a long flight over the ocean, and towards the end of it the airline attendants brought me a sandwich. When I looked closely at the plastic packaging I noticed that mine said it was “hand-crafted”, and that the bread was made using “authentic methods”. They must have passed out hundreds of “authentic” “hand-crafted” sandwiches that morning. I’m not really sure what those words mean exactly (what would an “inauthentic method” be?), but I know there’s part of me that does prefer to know that a human was involved in the process of making my food. Which is strange, to think of it—machines are pretty good at things, after all. With the right design and programming I’m sure they could be great at producing sandwiches. Probably better than a lot of people. I suppose the difference is that machines don’t care. A lot of people don’t care, either, but at least with a human there’s a chance. And that means something. It means so much, in fact, that the sandwich packaging said “hand-crafted”, not “machine perfected”. We like the thought of our lunch being made specially, with care, not just mindlessly mass-produced in a machine.

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Dream Small Is Now Available For Preorder

Most of you already know that I have written a book, titled Dream Small. I know the title sounds odd in a world obsessed with bigger and better, but the truth is that the things the world typically measures as bigger really aren’t better. There are better dreams to live for right in front of you, wherever you are. This book is about finding and living for those dreams, even if the world considers them small. I’m happy to let you know that Dream Small will release on the 1st of September (earlier than expected!), and that it is now available for preorder. Here a few of the places you can preorder it from:

The Good Book Company UK / USA

Teach Solas (Cork) / The Evangelical Bookshop (Belfast)

Amazon.com / .co.uk

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5 Top Tips For Christians Travelling In 2022

This is a guest post from my friend, Peter Grier, author of Travel: in tandem with God’s Heart. I found Peter’s book very helpful, and asked him to share a few thoughts on how we can travel as Christians now that the world is opening up again:

The pandemic has been (largely) left behind and finally we’re free! Travel figures are back surging again as travel-hungry individuals, families and groups of friends seek to make up for lost time. Wanted to go somewhere for that big birthday? 2022 is your year to catch-up! Missed a honeymoon? 2022! Simply want to see family and friends again after years? Now’s your chance!

Partly due to the surge, and partly to make up for lost sales, travel in 2022 may not be the cheapest it’s ever been (car hire and competition around accommodation especially), but there’s plenty of bargains out there still, depending on what kind of travel you’re interested in and whether you’re flexible.

But what does it look like for a Jesus-follower to travel this year? Here’s 5 ideas which hopefully may be of use to us all:

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A Strategic Retreat

About a year ago, I deleted all the social media apps on my phone. It felt drastic at the time, like chopping off my own thumb (you know, the scrolling one). But I still have those apps on my tablet, and I still have both my thumbs, so I don’t think I’ve actually missed much. I still enjoy using social media. I guess I just got tired of missing things in the real world because I was looking at my phone too much when I could have been looking around. 

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Seedlings Need The Weather

There’s a small square of earth behind our house that belongs to us. Which is strange, because it was here a long time before we were and will be here a long time after we’re gone. But there’s a deed in an office somewhere that has our names on it, so the ground is ours. And with that ground comes the responsibility to care for it—a responsibility that didn’t come from an office, but from Heaven.

We do our best. And when I say “we”, I really mean my wife, Jessica. She’s the one who does most of the caring and tending and planting. I made the raised beds around the edges of the garden, but she’s the one that filled them with roses and blueberries, mint and strawberries, pineapple sage and climbing jasmine and passion flowers. This year, she brought home packets of seeds for dahlias, zinnias, and cornflowers as well, because she wants to have flowers to cut for our dinner table throughout the spring, summer, and autumn. She sowed the seeds in trays of compost and found the perfect spot inside our glass door where our seedlings could have ideal conditions: plenty of sun (by Irish standards), warmth inside the house, protection from cold and storms and slugs, and regular watering. We babied our little baby plants, and we were delighted to see them grow, and grow fast. In fact they grew so fast that their stems became long and thin and too weak to hold up their own new leaves. One by one me they began to fall over. What went wrong? How could our seedlings be so weak when we protected them from every difficulty and obstacle? What more could we do for them? 

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How To Turn A Clique Inside Out

Cliques. They’re awful, aren’t they? We love to hate them (probably because we feel like they hate us). They’re easy targets for our criticism, all selfish and exclusive and proud, and who do they think they are treating other people like they don’t matter and barely exist at all? Cliques are bad. 

That is, until we’re in them. But the cliques we’re in aren’t cliques at all, because cliques are one of those odd realities that can only be seen and recognised from the outside. From the inside, they look completely different. From the inside, all we can see is camaraderie, companionship, support, and fun jokes that no one else understands. Who calls their closest friend group a “clique”? Maybe it happens, but I’ve never heard anyone use that name for themselves and their own friends. As far as I can tell, the name is always applied to other people in other groups—especially the groups we happen to feel a particular sense of exclusion from. 

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“Well, THAT was magic!”

When my second son was three, he didn’t walk—he marched. Everywhere. His stride may have been short, but it was full of confidence. I vividly remember the day he marched ahead of us into the grocery store, but had to pause as the automatic doors slid open. He watched them closely, then announced as a matter of fact: “Well, THAT was magic!” Then he marched through.

Was it magic? Not really. I know, and you know, and he knows now that he’s older, that automatic doors don’t operate on fairy dust. There is a mechanical, electrical explanation, and it all adds up and it all makes sense. Yes. But isn’t it amazing? The doors open themselves! It may not be magic in a technical sense, but isn’t there something magical about it?

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My Head And The Headlines

Reading the news these days is like watching a train wreck in slow motion—except it’s not a train, it’s the whole world. And like a train wreck, as horrifying as it is to watch, it’s also hard to look away. Every day I want an update on the war in Ukraine and the responses and effects on the rest of the world, and every day I know that the updates are going to make me sad when I see all the needless suffering of so many people who are made in the image of God. Of course, it’s hard to know exactly which updates are the truth and which are exaggerated for effect, or what is being left out, or what is going to happen next, but the general outlines of an unfolding tragedy are clear enough. 

The stakes are high. Once again, the world is being shaken. We never even had a chance to catch our breath. The bad news just keeps rolling in every time I refresh the news feed, demanding my attention, shouting about fear and disaster, death and destruction and economic collapse. It’s shocking, worrying, tiring, and anger-inducing, all at the same time, and I don’t want to look away. 

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We Cry Out

We’ve been working our way through Romans in our local Bible study group, and last week we talked about the part in chapter 8 where Paul writes this:

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.”

As I’ve read the news this week, I have thought about these verses often. I feel it in my own heart: I am groaning inwardly. The whole world is groaning in pain. But the beauty of this passage is not in its realism, although the realism is important. We dare not downplay the pain. It is too real, too horrible, too heavy. In a global moment like this, we simply cannot ignore the brokenness of our world, or pretend that everything is fine. It’s not fine. At all. And yet, we see in these verses that although reality includes pain and groaning right now, reality is more than those things—there is a hope that is just as real—even more so. That’s what I tried to capture in this poem:

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