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Glencairn Methodist Church

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December 2013


Writing stuff!


Besides teaching students and administering courses, university academics are expected to write accounts of their research and to publish papers and books, possibly  including student textbooks. For example:

  1. Mathematical Modelling is  student textbook written by John Berry and myself;

  2. Creators of Mathematics: The Irish Connection is a collection of short biographies of Irish mathematicians, each written by a different author, and combined and edited into one volume by myself.

  3. The Teaching and Learning of Mathematics at University Level is a 500 page edited collection (editor Derek Holton) containing 39 accounts of the research of various authors into different aspects of the subject, including one by me and another I wrote with Chris Haines on student assessment.

Academic publications tend to have two features in common, namely, each has a Preface or Introduction which describes briefly what the book or article is about, and each has a list of references to previous publications relevant to the current topic. Sometimes there are properly acknowledged, direct quotes from other works.


The Bible in your house, from King James onwards to the plethora of versions available today, will have an Introduction. Most of the books of the Bible will not, although many will quote from other book in the Bible. But St Luke's Gospel is different. The first four verses of chapter 1 are akin to the sort of Introduction found in academic books:



Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us,just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eye witnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

[The title Introduction is provided by the editors of the NIV (UK).]


Luke tells the reader that he is writing to a new Christian convert, Theophilus, so that "you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught". Furthermore Luke emphasises that he has "carefully investigated everything from the beginning", that is he has thoroughly researched the sources available to him to get the best possible account of the life of Jesus. In chapter 1 he includes quotations from statements made by Zechariah and Mary and also extracts from their personal stories of encounters with messengers from God and of  miraculous events in their lives concerning the births of their children, John and Jesus. These are the beginnings of his gospel.


Closer to Christmas we shall be reading the material in chapter 1 and chapter 2 up to verse 20 - lovely stories of Christmas given only by Luke. Matthew gives us other stories which all combine to give a more complete picture.


Let me look a briefly at Chapter 3 verses 1-20 - the story of the ministry of John the Baptist. This story is used as the Gospel for the 2nd Sunday in Advent.


Luke very carefully dates this story in relation to the kings, governors and high priests in power at the time. Zechariah was told that John would be a 2nd Elijah and sure enough he certainly acts like that prophet of old. John comes to the Jews with a stern message, and Luke quotes a prophesy by Isaiah to authenticate John's ministry as from God. He called people to "repent for forgiveness of sins" and he baptised those who responded, which they did in droves, and he reminded them how God expected them to behave. And John went on to warn them to expect "one greater that he" to come soon and to "baptise them with fire", namely Jesus.


Why did the people respond to John's teaching? Were they afraid of the wrath of God? Were they convinced in their hearts of their own guilt? Were they simply playing "follow my leader" and when one or two went forward the rest followed?


Is John's call to repentance relevant today? Yes indeed. Why do people respond? Fear, guilt, peer pressure? or something else? The modern day John would tell people about the fact that Jesus has been and has gone and will some again. But more than that, he will tell of the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross for our sins; he will tell of his glorious resurrection and ascension. And he will tell of the love that God has for us and has shown through the life of Jesus. It is in response to this love that people today will respond to John's call, and it is up to us, the church, to demonstrate this love to others.



5th December  2013


 NOTE - Previous "Monthly Messages" are archived at