A man said to his two sons, “I need you to do a job for me”. One son said “no”, the other son said “yes”—but that’s not how it happened. In fact, the son who said “no” changed his mind and did the job, while the son who said “yes” got involved in something else and never followed through.
It’s a simple story, told by Jesus in Matthew 21, and the point is clear: making the right noises is good, but doing the right thing is better. It’s a point our human hearts need reminding of, and often. Our world is obsessed with words, impressed by words, drowning in words. As someone who enjoys writing, I take great delight in finding the right phrase and spinning it around until I find just the right way to turn it. But no matter how hard I work at this, I have to admit: it’s always easier to find words for ideas than it is to act on them. It’s easier to write a love song than it is to genuinely give yourself for the good of another person. It’s easier to rail against the proud and greedy than it is to stop being those things myself. It’s easier to say “consistency is key in raising children” than it is to be consistent while raising actual children. In almost every area of life, it’s easier to say the right thing than it is to do the right thing.
Continue reading Well Done > Well Said
Halloween is coming soon, but I’m not interested. The celebration of demons and death has never held much attraction for me, but this year the holiday seems especially out of place: haven’t we had enough to scare us already in 2020? Who needs a horror film, when we have the news? Brexit, which would normally dominate European headlines, has taken a back seat to Coronavirus, and then of course there’s my own homeland, the (Dis)United States of America, trying to hold an election like Jerry Springer used to try to interview guests. When the world isn’t panicking, it’s angry. When it isn’t angry, it’s panicking. It’s a rollercoaster that refuses to end.
Continue reading Anger, Panic, And The Psalms
We’re later than we intended to be, but we’re still early. It’s our turn to help set up. The children take chairs from me as I bring out the stacks, then there’s the projector and the microphone, plus I need to run through the music with the others. We won’t have much time, but we never do, and we always manage to pull it off. We joke that if our band had a name, it would be A Wing And A Prayer.
Only a few minutes before we start, and familiar faces are smiling their greetings from across the room. As the hum of conversation grows, I see my children playing with their friends in the aisles between the chairs—are they being too loud? I see a few people slip into a side room to pray before we start. Through another door, I catch the movement of busy preparations in the kitchen, teas and coffees don’t make themselves, and they’ll be needed straightaway after the service.
Continue reading I Feel It On Sundays The Most
Last week, I spent 28 hours in Bible College lectures on the gospels. We covered a lot of ground, which really means we scratched a lot of surface. The more I learn about the Bible, the more glimpses I see of depths I have yet to explore. With more time, we could have studied the original Greek and picked apart the sentence structure, studied related historical documents and the lives of the writers and the political movements of the Roman Empire and it’s all helpful.
Knowing the historical details of the relationship between Jews and Samaritans in the first century, and the context of God’s command to “love your neighbour as yourself” in Leviticus, certainly does enhance my understanding of Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. But I don’t have to know all those things to the get the point of the story. In fact, if I really want to know what Jesus was talking about, there’s a better way to find out:
Continue reading Obedience Is Better Than Greek
In 1851 an Englishman by the name of John Henry Newman founded the Catholic University in Dublin, the precursor of today’s University College Dublin. Last month, he was canonised by Pope Francis along with four others at a ceremony in Rome. A Catholic convert from Anglicanism, Newman was a strong promoter of education and wrote an influential work called “The Idea Of A University”. When he was alive, he was recognised as a Cardinal. Now he’s also a Saint.
In his own time it was suggested that he led a saintly life, but he was quick to downplay the connection: “I have nothing of the saint about me as everyone knows and it is a severe and salutary mortification to be thought next door to one.”
Now that Rome has disagreed with the man himself, it raises the question: what is it that makes someone a saint?
Continue reading Who Could Ever Be A Saint?
Recently Munster Bible College had a week-long intensive course in early church history. There’s a lot to cover in a course like that, but by Friday evening we were talking about the gospel coming to Ireland through Patrick. What a man. He lived and breathed Scripture, which comes through in his surviving writings and his willingness to leave a comfortable life and sacrifice everything for the sake of the very people who had kidnapped and enslaved him in his youth. You could hardly get a better picture of the gospel of Jesus, who stepped out of Heaven to sacrifice everything for the sake of the very people who had rejected him. Continue reading Ireland’s Treasure: The Book Of Kells