John Newton’s Advice On Christian Controversy

Dear Sir,

As you are likely to be engaged in controversy, and your love of truth is joined with a natural warmth of temper, my friendship makes me solicitous on your behalf. You are of the strongest side; for truth is great, and must prevail…but I would have you more than a conqueror, and to triumph, not only over your adversary, but over yourself. If you cannot be vanquished, you may be wounded. To preserve you from such wounds as might give you cause of weeping over your conquests, I would present you with some considerations…

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St. Patrick’s Lost Years

Today marks the second St. Patrick’s Day in a row without celebrations in Ireland, St. Patrick’s country, which is perhaps more appropriate than it sounds. Patrick would understand the experience of having plans upended. The only reason we think of Ireland as his homeland today is because his life did not go to plan. At all. Growing up in Wales (probably), he never thought that his future would be in Ireland, and he didn’t much care for God, either. Then, disaster struck. He tells us in his autobiography: “I was taken prisoner. I was about sixteen at the time. At that time, I did not know the true God. I was taken into captivity in Ireland, along with thousands of others.”

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The Work Of The Wilderness

From a prison cell in Rome, the Apostle Paul wrote a letter to the believers in the city of Colossae, and shared with them a prayer that, at first glance, seems underwhelming. After praying that they would know God more and live lives worthy of him, he goes on to ask that they would be “…strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience.”

Strength. I need it. I can get behind a request for power and glorious might. Yes! Give me that! And with the glorious power of God himself give me…

Great endurance and patience.

Really? 

Is that all, Paul? Couldn’t we pray for a stunning victory over all obstacles and opposition, all trials and troubles? Isn’t God’s glorious might enough to ask for more than just patience?

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Anger, Panic, And The Psalms

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. 

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My Favourite Graveyard

One of my favourite places near our house is a little graveyard up the hill behind our village. Yes, I know how odd that sounds. I don’t even have relatives there; I know nothing about the people buried in that small patch of ground except what is written on their monuments and of course that they used to live where I live and breathe the same air and somebody cared enough about them to put up a stone in their honour. 

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I Feel It On Sundays The Most

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. 

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“Daddy, Can You Turn Off The Rain?”

My son was just a few years old, and he’d probably seen more rainy days than sunny ones in his short life. That’s what happens when you grow up in Ireland. I found him looking at his wet toys through the glass doors:

“Daddy, can you turn off the rain?”

It wasn’t a question, as much as a request. He wasn’t asking about whether I was capable of such a thing. He fully believed that I was. He just wanted to know if I would.

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