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As a teenager I used to listen to a song called “What if I stumble” by a band called DC Talk. They were a strange collection of soft rock and Christian rap, but this song began with a spoken section that said this: “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus by their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

I listened to that track over and over again and that phrase has always remained lodged in my mind ever since. And whether that is 100% true or not, I do know that Jesus speaks strongly against hypocrisy. It’s damaging to our walk and it destroys our witness.

Many people turn away from Jesus not because of unbelief in Him but because of hypocrisy in His people. This is exactly what Jesus addresses in the next part of the Sermon on the Mount.

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Matthew 6

Can you imagine a world where people presented themselves in a much better light publicly than the reality was in private? Can you imagine a world where people were so desperate to show their best side that they used filters and photoshop? Can you imagine a world where people exposed their best ideas and kept hidden their worst secrets, or did good works and then publicised them to others?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus describes some people who give to the needy but announce it with trumpets, pray public prayers in order to impress others and display their great works for everyone to see.

We might imagine nasty people who were lofty and arrogant, hypocritical Pharisees whose only care was for their own reputation, or religious do-gooders who were so up themselves and so down on others. But, in reality, I am often one of them, and you can be too. Jesus isn’t just talking to the Pharisees, He’s talking to me and you.

We can point the finger or shift the blame, but the reality is that each of us have areas in our life where our actions don’t measure up to our words. We might say we’re 5 minutes away when really it’s 10, make a commitment to someone and then back out, or sing that we surrender all to Jesus and hold too tightly to our wallets. Jesus isn’t saying, watch out for the hypocrites – he is saying that there is hypocrisy in all of us! The problem isn’t the Pharisees – the problem is me!

We don’t like to talk about it – but we are fallen. Because I am fallen I seek praise. Because I am fallen I try to be seen in better light than others. Because I am fallen I choose to please people rather than carry out the will of God.

When it comes to hypocrisy, we are all guilty and we are all in need of Jesus. We don’t put across the best version of ourselves but acknowledge our brokenness. It’s not about living our best life but about relying on the only Christ.

But another danger is that because we don’t want to be labelled hypocritical we end up saying nothing. Because we know our actions don’t measure up to our words, then we remain silent. We are worried that the more public we are about our faith, the more damage we might do when we don’t measure up.

Even if the world holds us to high and unrealistic expectations at times, I don’t think Jesus wants us to become secret Christians. He knows we are fallen and there is grace for that. And as a church, we know one another is fallen and there should be grace among us for that.

I wonder if actually the challenge of being vocal in our faith, actually builds in us a desire and a level of accountability for our lives to measure up, and while we may not give a perfect example, we can always give a personal one.

This passage is essentially some commands about giving to God and praying to God, but it actually drives deep to the heart of where we find affection & where we go to for motivation. Are our foundations built on the affection of others or the affection of God? Are we motivated to carry out the wants of people or the will of the Father?

So much of Jesus’ words here focus us on things that are unseen, rather than what is obvious. He is urging his followers to give in secret, to pray in private, to fast without a hint and to place their emphasis on the eternal rather than the temporal.

You know, in a world where people share photos of their plate before a meal, their body after a workout and their front door every September, these words are counter cultural. In a society where we are tempted to expose our every thought, action or highlight, we must ensure that we avoid the lure of public exposure as the motivator of our actions.

It might be counter cultural to embrace standing in the shadows rather than shining in the spotlight, but it might just be the way of Jesus. It might be tempting to do otherwise but it is essential for our private devotion to take priority over our public cries.

Jesus followers focus on what is unseen rather than what is obvious. Because spiritual foundations are more hidden than they are visible. Jesus encourages giving but doesn’t want it to be announced. He wants us to pray but wants us to prioritise secret prayers over spiritual prayers.

What is below the surface of our life is what is most important. So what spiritual foundations are you building into your life?

I’m struck that in this passage there are some repeated phrases throughout: “When you give” and “when you pray.” Not if you give or if you pray. No, these were basic expectations for the people of God. Jesus didn’t say “if you feel really led to some Sunday then just check if you’ve got any change left in your wallet.” He didn’t say “if time permits & you’ve finished the box-set, then grab a few minutes to pray.” If wasn’t if there was enough money in the bank or enough hours in the day. It was about “when” not “if”.

Foundations are laid first before the rest of the house gets built. Before the stunning brickwork, spectacular landscaping or sophisticated furnishings, there are things that get done first. So too with our lives as Christians.

As I receive my pay check, is my bank account built on a solid foundation of generosity? Jesus says when you give do it generously but not conspicuously. As I start my day, is it being built on a solid foundation of prayer? Jesus says when you pray do it in privacy, not for publicity.

But these words of Jesus aren’t just about the foundations of our lives, but the foundation of our hearts. When addressing hypocrisy we so often focus on the actions part, but what about the heart? Because it’s out of the overflow of our hearts that our mouths speak. (Matthew 16:33)

Can the heart be trained? And, if so, how might Jesus want to shape our hearts? For Jesus followers it’s about letting our heart shape our hands. Can my heart be shaped more so that my hands become more generous? Can my heart be ruled by God so that prayers pour from my lips? What spiritual foundations are you building your life on?

Lastly, Jesus is promising His followers something in the future. He says: “Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full” and then in contrast: “Your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

Earthly praise is some people’s full reward, while those who follow and honour Jesus have a reward to come. Think about that! If you don’t follow Jesus, the rewards of this life are as good as they get. But if you follow Jesus, this life is as bad as it gets. The rewards of the future are better.

In my life I need to continue to choose things of eternal significance over earthly value. Good looks fade, earthly praise doesn’t last and social media likes have no value. A great reputation might be helpful in this life but does nothing in our future one.

This is an upside down kingdom. Many of the principles Jesus shared during the “Sermon on the Mount” were ideas that would have marked out his followers as being distinct from the culture around them. Principles like walking an extra mile when customs dictated that one mile was enough. Teachings where giving was encouraged but not to be announced. A kingdom where love extends not just to neighbours but enemies. This is an upside down kingdom where meekness is a virtue, being cursed brings a blessing and poverty was rewarded.

Why? Because in all of these things, they speak about a future kingdom that is better than any present kingdom. And so we stand on the firm foundation of the only one who has lived on this world and wasn’t fallen. And the One whose body was broken and yet He lives forever.

He promises us a future reward – but we choose to take up service of Him and devotion to Him in the present – even when that means obscurity and hiddenness in our lives.

“I will not boast in anything – no gifts, no power, no wisdom.
But I will boast in Jesus Christ – His death and resurrection.”

What are you boasting in? Who are you boasting in?


The Seasons of Life

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Each year we observe the changing seasons around us, whether it’s new-born lambs or budding flowers in Spring, the warmer days and longer nights of summer, falling leaves and heavier coats in Autumn, or the colder weather and greater darkness of Winter. All of these phases represent signs of seasons changing around us. In our environment, change is inevitable.

Just as the seasons of a year come and go, we are also guaranteed seasons in our life too. Some seasons are expected and welcomed, some may be unexpected or even unwelcome, but our challenge is learning to navigate these seasons and continuing forward no matter what circumstances arise around us.

As a couple declare the vows of marriage on their wedding day, they take into account that there will inevitably be changing circumstances and shifting seasons ahead of them. Whether it will be sickness or health, for better or worse, or in riches or poverty, the marrying couple are promising that no matter what lies ahead for them, they will continue to honour, love and live with one another for the rest of their days.

So to with the people of God. We look ahead into the unknown abyss unsure about the specifics but certain about the reality of suffering and joy, challenges and opportunities, illness and death. In this curious mix of known uncertainty, we face it with the desire to continue to honour, love and live for God for the rest of our days.

Perhaps it isn’t a question of what things will change in our lives, but actually a question of what things will remain in our lives. In the changing seasons of life, what will we prioritise and what will we cling on to. Tim Keller writes that “far more importance than any seasonal adjustments are the things we do in season and out of season: pray, preach, break bread, sing, teach, serve the poor, baptise, love. Although sowing is easier in April than in December, the requirement to do them does not change.”

Solomon recognised the changing circumstances of life as he wrote Ecclesiastes 3. He acknowledged times of mourning and weeping, but also laughter and joy. He referred to destruction and death, mingled with healing and birth. However, in Solomon’s wisdom he also pointed to two great truths in verse 11 that would never change. Firstly, that no one can fathom the ways of God, and secondly, that God would make everything beautiful in its time.

In whatever season you are facing right now, may you cling on to that truth.

The Bigger Picture

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This is something I wrote and shared recently at PCI’s Youth Assembly event to kick off a session called “The Bigger Picture.” It seemed to resonate and several people have asked me for a copy of it since so I thought I would share it and make it available to others. The heart behind it is to capture the beauty, breadth and diversity that is found within the wider church I find myself part of. So here it is…

Across this island we’re scattered; North, South, East, West.
Coleraine to Cork, Greyabbey to Galway, each doing their best.

We are part of a church that comes in various shape and size.
Yet in each one, Jesus Christ and His word are emphasised.

Some big, some small, some traditional, some modern,
But whether urban or rural, from each church we can learn.

Because each of them carry a his-tory, a story;
A people to reach and bring God glory.

Some congregations see over 1000 each Sunday gather.
Many are smaller but on mission they scatter.

Some congregations have existed for over 300 years,
While in this last decade, new ones have been pioneered.

Some congregations gather in ancient old buildings with pulpits and balconies.
Others gather in modern auditoriums with platforms and cafes.

Organs and choirs provide the music for some.
While others prefer to use guitars and drums.

In some places, hymns from the hymnbook are heartily sung and played.
For others it’s Hillsongs, Redman and songs on the screen are displayed.

You might have a preference or like things a certain way.
But each expression of worship is designed to give praise.

Both male and female, serving and leading.
There are young and old, singing and reading.

There are many existing programmes, constant activities;
And developing dreams with fresh opportunities.

Of course we see failure and at times have frustrations;
But we should be inspired by hope rather than deep desperation.

So let’s celebrate the good and strive for more.
Asking God to use our efforts and move like before.

You are here to contribute, you are called to care.
Because you are part of this church with a message to share.


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Just a glimpse of an Emerging Leaders Training Programme I’ve been part of. It’s been a privilege investing in a generation of now and future leaders.

Ministry of the Pew, not the Few

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This is something I wrote recently for a couple of PCI publications. You can follow the original trail here, but this is the key part of the content.

Many churches have signs outside the premises of where they gather displaying key information about who they are. Often it might declare the name of the church, display a logo, share contact information and, in most cases, communicate the name of the Senior Leader or Minister of the church. However, I once heard of a sign outside a church that read:

“Minister – All Members.”

I love that! The sign declares that the job of ministry isn’t just for those who stand at the front, get paid or take the lead, but that the responsibility of ministry goes much deeper and far wider than any one leader. Of course some people in the church are called to lead, but all people  in the Church are called to minister.

This was what Paul was communicating to the early church when he said that the job of the Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers was to “equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” [Eph 4:12]

Paul is saying that whatever part they play, whatever function they have, whatever role they do, the purpose of Christian leadership is to equip God’s people for work of service. That was why Christ gave them to the church!

There is so much good news here. Firstly, if you are one of God’s people then you have works of service to do. No individual is exempt. No one’s ministry is extinct. We all have works of service.

Secondly, the job of the leaders in the church isn’t to do all the ministry, and I’m fairly sure that most church leaders will nod their head at that! Leadership used to be about one person doing the ministry and everyone else supporting, but in the church it should be about everyone ministering and the leaders supporting. Jesus himself gave these functions to the church to equip the people that He loves so much. The job of the leaders in the church is to equip everyone for ministry. This is a powerful and profound shift!

Thirdly, we each need equipped for the works of service that we have. And that equipping comes best from the body of Christ. We don’t operate as lone rangers in our ministry, but we are equipped for it by the leaders in the church. We need the encouragement, challenge, support, correction, provision and prayer of those in authority over us.

Lastly, the purpose of our “works of service” is always to build up the body of Christ. It’s not about bettering our name but benefitting the body. We need the ministry of the body of Christ and the body of Christ needs our ministry!

One doctrine that was at the heart of the Reformation was the ‘priesthood of all believers.’ Simply put, this is a belief that every individual has direct access to God and every follower of Jesus shares the responsibility of ministering to the other members of the community of believers. However, while the priesthood of all believers is widely accepted and part of the heritage of many churches, it isn’t always modelled well or practiced fully.

If applied properly the priesthood of all believers would see the mobilisation of the entire body of Christ for the full mission of God. Of course, this won’t mean everyone in the church standing at the front to preach – for many that would be their worst nightmare! But rather than everyone ministering through preaching, each of us can minister through the pew. So what might effective ministry of the pew look like?

I think at times it means walking across the church to say hello to someone we don’t know very well or stopping with someone after the service to ask how you could pray for them this week. At other times it will be singing out loudly to encourage the doubting believer beside you or using your gifts to serve in an area of need. Ministry in the pew could mean bringing your neighbour to church, encouraging your leaders, upping your giving or simply smiling more!

A church might be blessed by brilliant preaching or inspiring worship, but the real work of the church isn’t what happens on the platform. Instead, the real work of the church is done by those who silently and selflessly serve one another, pointing the others to Christ by how they speak, how they give and how they live.

The real work of the church is the honest conversation, the serving of a missional community, the welcoming of a child to the kids ministry, the laser sharp prayer through a prayer ministry time, the bible being opened with teenagers, the word of prophecy shared with a doubting believer, the meal being offered to a family in need, or the question of ‘how can I pray for right now’ to someone sitting nearby.

Welcoming a newcomer isn’t just the job of the welcome team. Praying for others isn’t just for the prayer ministry teams. Caring for one another isn’t just down to the elders. Evangelism isn’t just for the confident ones. Inviting others shouldn’t rely on the weekly bulletin.

And our works of service should also transcend the church gathering to radically impact our individual scattering where we show love to a colleague, work well for an employer, live well in the neighbourhood and share faith with a friend.

For me this is a full picture of discipleship and mission. Leaders equipping, everyone ministering and the church benefitting. What would it look like if our churches could have this emphasis at the very centre of all we did? Fully equipping disciples. Better resourcing everyday believers to share Jesus in any way they can. Encouraging, inspiring and challenging all of God’s people for their works of service.

This is about releasing the grip of ministry as leaders and allowing others to be participants rather than passengers. This is about helping everyone contribute, rather than allowing them to be consumers. This goes beyond just who is standing at the front to imagine what we all can do, so let’s be together in purpose and scattered in witness – ministers of the pew who both benefit the church and impact society.

Discipleship that Fits

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An excerpt from a book I’m currently reading called “Discipleship that Fits” by Bobby Harrington & Alex Absalom. Really thought provoking and I found myself nodding along to this:

“We need to work out how to be missionaries in our culture who make disciples. For too long we as the church have focused almost solely on reaching those who will come to us, at a time and place of our choosing. This places the burden of change, of needing to shifts cultures to fit into the little world we have created, entirely on those we are seeking to reach! No wonder the Western church is struggling!

Even a passing glimpse at the New Testament reveals that the current strategy for discipleship is not the primary commission Jesus has give us. He is clear: we are to go out into the world, meeting people on their turf, representing Jesus in that environment, working out what good news would look like in that place, and forming expressions of church that are fully faithful to the gospel yet also fully incarnated into that particular neighbourhood or network of relationships.”

Do we need another church?

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I thought I’d just share a short response to a question I’ve been asked a few times over the past couple of months. Does Belfast really need another church? It’s a fair question and there are lots of ways to respond but here are 3 quick thoughts:

1/ I firmly believe that to reach more people we need to plant more churches. Different expressions of community, worship, teaching and mission will reach different people in different ways in different places. As some churches die, other churches need to be birthed. We are going to need a bunch of renovation in the church in our nation, but we are also going to need a bit of innovation too. They go hand in hand. We need the established and we need the new. We need the traditional and we need the fresh models. And we need to realise we’re all in the same team!

2/ This is not about starting a church out of a place of complaint or in a spirit of disunity. The picture of churches in the New Testament wasn’t about churches growing bigger, but about planting communities of people that spread and multiplied. For whatever reason, we as a church have been growing significantly over the last few years. We have lots of new people coming to join us, some who haven’t been part of church before, others wanting to pitch in with what we’re doing. Somewhere along the line, there has been a realisation that it’s not just about building the church in Carnmoney, but there is an opportunity to be a resource and blessing to a wider mission. Through our growth, we want to give life away. This is about a sense of call from God to the city.

3/ As we look towards wider society I think most people could agree that there is a desperate need for hope. People need hope. It just happens that I’m part of a group of people who believe that true hope isn’t found in a policy or a politician, but a person called Jesus. That’s why we’re joining in with what God is already doing in the city. To join others in declaring a message of hope.

If you would love more info about Carnmoney Central, you can click here.

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