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Showing posts from April, 2008

Jonah 4: What are More Important?

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(Jonah comes in gasping and covered in sun-block)
I just don't believe it! One week I'm drowning in water... Another week I'm gasping for it... Any chance of a drink? (Someone gives him a glass of water)
Ah! That hits the spot! Anyway... Did you get my postcard, from sunny Nineveh? Dreadful place! Give me Ballybeen any day.
But you'll never guess what happened after I wrote the postcard... There I was, I'd done what God had asked me to... I'd told the Ninevites exactly what God thought of them... I didn't miss them and hit the wall, let me you! I told them they had 40 days before God was going to destroy them...
And you should have seen their faces. They knew their number was up. I'd really got to them... They started weeping and wailing, and did the old sack-cloth and ashes bit. Its always the same; tell people they're doomed and they start on about how dreadfully sorry they are...
Well, I said, its too late... 40 days and you've had your chips.

Jonah 3: Wish I Weren't Here

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A postcard from our illustrious prophet to my congregation in Ballybeen, Northern Ireland.






Perhaps you can't read his writing. He writes:


Dear friends,
Well, made it to Nineveh at last. Don’t know about “Wish you were here,” but I wish I wasn’t. It’s every bit as bad as its reputation... even worse than Ballybeen. And it’s huge... I’ve been trekking across it on foot all day (the public transport is non-existent... that’s government cutbacks for you), and I still haven’t got to the city centre. But I think I’ll set up stall here, and let them have it. See you soon. Should be finished here in forty days. Nineveh should be finished in forty days too.
Yours in God’s service,
Jonah, son of Amittai.
© David A. Campton 2001
Thankfully Jonah's powers of prophetic foresight were not very well developed, and his words became a self-defeating, rather than self-fulfilling prophecy as the city of Nineveh responded in repentance.
There are times when I fear that the Good News of God's grace,…

Jonah 2: A Strange Salvation

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Part 2 of this series on where Jonah comes in towelling himself off.

You won't believe it! The last time I was speaking to you I told you how I ended up doing the doggy paddle in the middle of the Mediterranean. God had asked me to go to Nineveh and I just happened to take a wrong turning, and ended up heading in the opposite direction... In a boat headed for Tarshish. But God soon caught up with me and whipped up a storm just to grab my attention, and before I knew it the sailors had grabbed me and threw me over the side to keep God quiet. So there I was... Fishfood... Literally, as it happened.
Have you ever had the misfortune of listening to fishermen telling you tales of the one that got away? It was this big, they tell you... When you know fine rightly it was this big. Well I've got a story that will top any of their's... Not so much the one that got away as the one that got me... How big was it? It was that big! Big enough to swallow me in one gulp, and I'm quite …

Jonah 1: You Can Run...

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David Clawson, a former member of Dundonald Methodist who is now Assistant Minister at Craigyhill Presbyterian in Larne, was back in Dundonald speaking at our Youth Fellowship service... He (and indeed the whole service led by the young people) was excellent... He was speaking from Jonah 1 & 2... Prompting me to post a series of pieces based on the book of Jonah... the complete antithesis of what a prophet should be...


Originally I delivered this first one covered in water and swathed in seaweed... I also adapted it for use in the Connexions event at the 2004 Dublin Conference, and delivered it standing knee deep in a fountain.





You just wouldn't believe it! The week I've had. It all began with a message from God... Recorded delivery, so I couldn't even pretend it had got lost in the post. It was addressed to Jonah, Son of Amittai, Prophet of Israel... That's me... But I was in no way ready for what was inside. It said "Dear Jonah, I would like you to go and tell…

Belfast from Above

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My family and I did the big rickety wheel last weekend... Belfast's miniature London Eye... We'd been talking about doing it since before Christmas, so it's a good job it didn't roll on elsewhere at the end of March as was apparently the original plan. Anyway, it's great, you should try it. Even Sally enjoyed it and she usually gets vertigo putting on high heels!
But enough of the advert, while I was up at the top of the wheel I realised how much has changed over the past 10 years in this city I call home, and I also remembered this exerpt from the show "Healing of the Nations" based on the book of Revelation that I wrote for New Irish Arts and Evangelical Alliance back in 2002... I considered re-writing it and taking the top of the big rickety wheel as the viewpoint... But then I thought, perhaps I should leave well alone.
John: And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of hea…

Presence not Programmes

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Been thinking again about what it is to follow the example of an incarnate God who, as Peterson puts it, "became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood" (John 1:14 from the Message), and I thought again about the example of Henri Nouwen, the theologian, activist and writer, who gave up his high-flying, academic existence to become a carer for physically and mentally handicapped people. In his book “Gracias” he says:
More and more, the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball, throw water, and be known as someone who wants to live with them. It is a privilege to have the time to practice this simple ministry of presence. Still, it is not as simple as it seems. My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project is so strong that soon my time is taken up by meetings, conferences, study groups, and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets.
It is d…

Out of the Depths

Yet another responsive Psalm, this time devised for a service in Braniel Church.I think that some of it reflected the bleak place that I found myself in mentally and spiritually a week or two ago.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord;
I’m in the depths of darkness, despair and death.
O Lord, please hear my voice.
Open your ears to my cries for mercy.
If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, who could stand before you?
But you are a forgiving God, and that is why you should be adored.
I wait for you expectantly O, Lord,
and in your word I put my hope.
I’m watching and waiting for the morning to break,
I’m watching and waiting for the morning.
O people of God, put your hope in the Lord,
for the love of the Lord is unfailing
With him comes full redemption.
The Lord himself will pay the price of his people’s sins.

from Psalm 130 (© David Campton 2008)

Grace

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Another little hidden gem in the Radio 4 schedules this week. A play by Mick Gordon and A.C. Grayling, dealing with issues of science and religion, faith and family, love and kindness. Grace, a scientist and fundamentalist atheist, is faced with the decision of her son Tom to become a priest. Only available on the BBC i-Player... So this play will self destruct in 7 days... Get it while you can.

One for the Road

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Preaching on the Parable of the Good Samaritan (again) and I dug out this dialogue I wrote for the Connexions on a Journey Event at the 2004 Methodist Church in Ireland Conference in Dublin. It was actually a partner piece to the "Companions on a Journey" poem I posted earlier.

Voice 1: A lesson on the road…
Voice 2: A dangerous road…
Voice 1: A difficult lesson…
Voice 2: One which we haven’t learned 2000 years later…
Voice 1: What must we do to inherit eternal life…
Voice 2: That’s easy “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind;” and, “Love your neighbour as yourself.”
Voice 1: Correct! Eternal life to the smart alec on my right!
Voice 2: But who is my neighbour?
Voice 1: That’s typical of the breakdown in a sense of community in the world today… Imagine not knowing your own neighbour…
Voice 2: No seriously… Who do I have to love?
Voice 1: Who do you have to love? That’s different… Jesus told a story about that…

A New Commentary on the Bible...

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Not a commentary you might want to refer to in sermon preparation or in personal devotions... But a very amusing 30 minutes. Look Away Now, the comedy sports programme on Radio 4, has done a live commentary on the Bible in the style of Radio 5Live Saturday afternoon premiership football coverage… So if you like sports and haven't had a sense of humour bypass, you should enjoy it... And definitely the most exciting account of the resurrection I've heard anywhere...

You need to get in quick though... It is only available on BBC's own self-destructing i-player... A metaphor for the modern disposable world!

What does Jesus look like?

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My son Owain and I are at that stage when he is deeply embarassed if I show any signs of liking the same music as he does... So apologies to him on this one. I am not in trying to portray myself as in any way cool (or whatever the current term is); for proof of that see the fact that last week I posted a blog on a Sting song! You don't get much less cool than that. I was depressed, what can I say...
But this week I was listening to one of his recent purchases "Sam's Town" by The Killers, and the song "When You Were Young" leapt out at me... Not only because it is a cracking pop/rock track but because of the lyrics. I suppose I'm now psychologically conditioned to prick up my ears for those times when the name "Jesus" is used in any way bar a swearword, and this song contains the line: "He doesn't look a thing like Jesus..."
Most of the lyrics in the song are frankly indecipherable, and a visit into the blogosphere on the subject wi…

Covering Up the Stench of Death

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How to deal with the past in this wee province of ours is a persistent problem. This week has seen two further illustrations of why it is important to do this in a systematic, cost-effective and yet healing fashion. The launch of the Rosemary Nelson enquiry, which, with its 170+ "witnesses" threatens to be yet another mini-"Bloody Sunday" inquisition, giving lawyers a license to print money, and telling no-one anything that they hadn't already expected. Meanwhile the son of Constable John Larmour, who was shot dead in Belfast in October 1988, has suggested in the wake of a report by Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson, that a Special Branch informer was involved in the murder of his father, and that information to that end was not disclosed to the investgating officers.
The quest for the truth by the families of these, and countless other victims of the troubles is entirely understandable. But whether that truth will be reconciling or divisive is very dubious, and wi…

What can I give to say “Thank You”?

Yet another responsive Psalm. The more I read the Psalms the more I realise that they are best used in their original context of corporate worship. The versions I have been posting here from time to time are ones that I have used in worship at Dundonald Methodist Church week by week.

I love the Lord, for he listened to me;
he heard my cry for mercy.
I turned to him in my distress,
And he turned his ear toward me.
The cords of death were strangling me,
the depths of the grave loomed large;
I was overcome by trouble and sorrow;
I didn’t know which way to turn.
Then I called to the Lord for help:
"O Lord, save me!"
What can I give to say “Thank You” to the Lord for all his goodness to me?
How can I possibly repay the blessings he has poured out on me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation:
a toast to the name of the Lord.
I will fulfil the promises I made to the Lord
I will serve the Lord as one of his people.
I am your servant, for you have freed me;
you have released me from my chains.
I am here …

His Love Endures Forever...

A responsive Psalm based on Psalm 118:1-9 devised for Dundonald Methodist Church's Cell Group Celebration.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
His love endures for ever.
Let the congregation of God’s people say:
His love endures for ever.
Let leaders, priests and pastors say:
His love endures for ever.
Let all who fear the Lord say:
His love endures for ever.

In my distress I cried to the Lord:
He answered me by setting me free.
The Lord is with me and so I will not be afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?
The Lord is with me;
he is my helper.
I will look in triumph on those who hate me;
I will triumph in the Lord.

It is better to put your trust in the Lord than to put your faith in people.
It is better to put your trust in the Lord than to trust in princes and presidents.

© David Campton 2008

If I ever lose my faith in you...

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OK. This is one of those depressing posts that you really shouldn't put online at 12.40 am after a long hard day, but I've just had a day where my spiritual credentials were questioned because I had dared to ask questions about a recent evangelistic event, later had a long conversation with a member of my church which left me feeling disheartened about the whole "church" thing as we currently do it... without really knowing what to do about it... and am dreading a series of conversations I have to have in the next week or too about another episode involving the church at it's best (not!)

And echoing around my head was this song by Sting. And it seems so apt...

I am a scientist by training, who is uneasy about the lack of a moral centre to much modern scientific endeavour and deeply pessimistic about the ability of science to deal with the impending disaster this world is facing.
I am someone involved in ongoing contact with politicians and civil servants, who is be…

Companions on the Journey

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Given some of what I was saying in my previous posting on Trivial Pursuits, and the news that Belfast isn't going to get a light railway but a few bendy buses, I was reminded of this poem I wrote a few years ago for the Connexions Event at the Methodist Conference in Dublin.

Some people don’t like traveling on public transport
Beside other people; smelly people;
Rude people; poor people;
Noisy people; nosy people;
Young people; old people;
Some people don’t like people…
They prefer cars…
Jesus likes people…
People like you and me;
People not like you and me;
People not liked by you and me;
People who don’t like you and me;
People who don’t know you and me;
But Jesus knows them
And he knows you and me
And despite all that he knows
he invites us all to join him on his journey.
I think Jesus would have liked public transport.
(© David Campton 2004)

Trivial Pursuits

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I am a trivia nut. Ask me anything important like my brothers' birthdays or the name of a person I have just been speaking to, or (and this is one that drives my wife nuts) the weight, and gender of a friend's newborn baby, and I cannot remember it for a second... Ask me something totally inconsequential... like the date of the battle of Bannockburn, or the given name of Cary Grant and I can tell you in an instant (1314 and Archibald Leach respectively).Why that is I don't know, but it does mean that more than one casual acquaintence has claimed me as a "friend" that they would like to phone if they ever get on to the "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" quiz programme... and few people can be bothered playing "Trivial Pursuits" with me...But there is definitely something about the way that I remember things... I don't do it consciously, but I make connections across different areas of knowledge, so I'll make mental links between seemingly…

The Source of Hope

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In a week where the Taioseach has annouced his impending resignation, Robert Mugabe continues to resist the democratic will of his people, bookmakers in Britain took a hammering on the Grand National, and there has been a Celebration of Hope in the Odyssey arena here in Belfast, I thought that this responsive adaptation of Psalm 33 was an appropriate introduction to our worship this morning... As we affirmed that our hope is not to be found in political leaders, celebrity speakers, and much less a horse...



No king is saved by the size of his army;
no earthly leader lives for ever.
Don’t put your hope in a horse for deliverance;
despite its great strength it is no saviour.
But the Lord God looks with favour on all who fear Him,
on those who place their hope in His unfailing love.
He alone can sustain in time of famine and disease;
He alone can deliver us from death.
We wait in hope for the Lord;
He alone is our help and our shield.
In Him our hearts rejoice,
for we trust in His holy name.
May your …

Translation Problems

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Yesterday I was back on my old stomping ground of the Springfield Road for an event at Forthspring, where they hosted the President of Burundi, Mr Pierre Nkurunziza. The purpose was, as I have stated previously, to explore the relationship between dealing with community hostility and social disadvantage.
For those who don't know, Burundi is a tiny republic in Central Africa, which has experienced recurring ethnic tensions, largely between the traditionally dominant Tutsi's (who controlled the army) and the majority Hutu. Since the assassination of a former Hutu president, Burundi has experienced unrest which has resulted in at least 300,000 deaths, putting our little local difficulties in perspective. Pierre Nkurunziza was at one time a rebel Hutu leader, though in interviews he emphasises that he was forced into this when the army came to kill him in his University post in the first throws of the unrest (His father had been killed in earlier conflicts in the 1970s). As the cul…

A View from the Mountaintop

Well, before we get buried in MLK-iana today... This is, for me, the most stirring and yet perplexing of all his speeches. Did he know what lay ahead for himself? If he was looking ahead for the USA he was certainly still looking into our own future, because the events around the Obama candidacy illustrates that the USA hasn't quite reached the promised land... But one day...And what about us... what do we see ahead? What are we commiting ourselves to build towards even if we aren't there to see it completed?

Well, I don’t know what will happen now; we’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life - longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know toni…

Going, Going, Gone?

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While in the US recently with a group of church leaders from Northern Ireland we were driving through Pittsburgh when our mobile phones all started to indicate that we had each been sent a message... We each checked to discover that Dr. Ian Paisley had announced that he was standing down as First Minister of Northern Ireland and the Leader of the DUP in May.
While in a meeting this morning with the same group of church leaders reflecting on our recent visit to the US, again messages started to come in, informing us this time of Bertie Ahern's intention to resign as Taoiseach in May.
The column writers, satirists and cartoonists will have a field day with this conjunction of events. There will be pictures of the two of them walking hand in hand into the sunset... or jumping off a cliff... There will be reminders that in both cases their political demise was hastened by accusations of sleaze coming too close to home for comfort. And there will be much debate about their collective c…

Watch this Space

Just a brief marker to say that I WILL be posting reflections on my recent trip to the US... But I have held off in anticipation of a meeting with the other participants today, and in the light of that I think I'll keep my powder dry for another week or two... Bet there are millions on the edge of their seats waiting...

Only Visiting this Planet

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He said in one of his most influential albums that he was only visiting this planet, and he hadn't been well for a long time, but I was genuinely saddened when I read tonight that Larry Norman had died on the 24th February. Shows how out of touch I was all through March in that I hadn't heard before now. However, it also shows that in death and as in life he wasn't as well known as his talent deserved... He was an awkward character at heart and freely admitted that he was too secular for Christians and too Christian for those in the secular world. But he influenced many people in the music industry, and indeed there are those who claim that the multi-billion dollar Christian music industry owes its origins to him... though he probably wouldn't thank you for that.
He also influenced many people outside of music... including myself, even though his heyday was well passed before I started listening to his records. But he showed me that it was possible to retain both artis…

Stretching Out the Conflict

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For five years I was minister to a congregation on the longest peaceline in Northern Ireland, snaking for 3 miles from near the centre of Belfast to half-way up the Springfield Road, keeping the Catholic/Republican community of the Falls Road and greater west Belfast separated from the Protestant/Loyalist community of the Shankill/Woodvale, and in the process it divided the premises belonging to Springfield Road Methodist in two... leaving their front door on the Catholic side of the wall and most of their members on the other!
The ironic thing is that the wall only became a permanent structure AFTER the paramilitary ceasefires, and specifically, because of President Bill Clinton's visit to the area in 1997. The old corrugated iron fence was taken down and it was replaced by a much prettier, but infinitely more permanent brink wall... And since that time the wall has been extended with a 30 foot wire mesh fence on top, to prevent stone-throwing and petrol bombing...
At the recent …

Holy Week Crowd Scenes

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It was a strange Holy Week this year… I suppose it had crept up on me unawares to a certain extent because I had been off ill in the run up to it... But the fact that it was as early as it can possibly be (and will be for the next 134 years or something like that according to someone I was talking to) also put a slightly different slant on it, as all the Easter allusions to new life and spring were a little out of sync.
It began as ever with Palm Sunday and reflections about that cheering crowd waving palm leaves on the road into Jerusalem, but then the next day, there were yet more cheering crowds... this time with Shamrocks rather than palm leaves, because it was St. Patrick's Day. This sent the liturgically literate into a bit of a tailspin... Should it be a feast or a fast?
But the rest of the world celebrated regardless... Actually, to paraphrase the words of Caiaphas about Jesus on Palm Sunday, and apply them to our own St. Pat, it seemed as if the whole world has gone over to…