Thanks for visiting my website. My name is Phelim Doherty and I live in the city of Derry in Northern Ireland with my wife Nicola. The youngest of our four children is now 18 but our home is no less busy! I pastor River City Church (www.graceriver.org) part of the Apostolic Church UK (www.apostolic-church.org). I have listed at the bottom of this page some bullet points about my life so far, but it’s between the lines thats the fun part! If what you read or hear on this blog touches your heart, then please feel free to share or get in touch.
Social media gets a lot of negative publicity these days, but even 2000 years ago, back up those same Roman super-highways that brought oppression to the ancient world, went the gospel that brought freedom. Jesus did not come to start a new religion, but to abolish all religion (self-effort). The Gospel is good news, not good advice, because it is not about what you need to do for God, but entirely about what He has done for you. When you begin to see the enormity of what He has done, you will find a great change underway at the heart of your life. That’s because who each of us are today, springs directly from what we are believing about our true identity and worth (Proverbs 4:23 & Prov.23:7). Christ is the revelation of our true life, the life God always planned for us, a life lived in communion with an ever-present loving father. The Bible has a name for this change that comes in our lives, when we hear the true gospel. That name is ‘metanoia’; a transformation in our thinking, which leads to a transformation in our living. This word is commonly translated as ‘repentance’. Properly understood, repentance is not the lever that moves God. It is rather us being moved, by the Holy Spirit revealing to us what God has done for us (John 6:44).
Here is the great difference between the Gospel and religion. Religion everywhere, in all streams of the Church and beyond, says in effect; ‘If you will first do this for God, then He will …..”. But the Gospel is not a ‘you first’ message. It is a ‘He first’ message. The only reason we love Him at all, is because He first loved us (1John.4:19) and the Holy Spirit, in pouring that unconditional love into our hearts, sets us free from the fear that motivates much religious activity (1John.4:18).
My prayer is that as the Church awakes to the enormity of what Christ has done, we will repent of our religion. The Gospel remains an affront to anyone determined to justify themselves through their religious efforts. That’s why in each generation, men have taken a message about God’s love for us and watered it down, to present the gospel as a message about our love for Him. It’s time to get back to the gospel that shook the ancient world; the message that God has already done, through Christ, what every religion claims He is still demanding of us. He has reconciled us to Himself through Christ, no longer counting our sins against us and has committed to His Church the message of reconciliation (the Gospel). It is only after first proclaiming to people the breathtaking news of what He has done, can we then turn around and say to them, “So we implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God”. (2Cor.5:17-21). This is because it is only the truth of the Gospel itself, that has the power to open hearts closed by disappointment with God and life. (Prov.13:12, Rom.1:16).
The Gospel is not just the message about what God has done, it is the revelation of who He is. To our utter amazement and joy, it turns out He is not the god of religion; one who stands back from us, marking our performance (Colossians 2:13,14). Instead He is the God who gives Himself to us, lock stock and barrel. He is a God so smitten with us, that He became us, sharing in the depths of our loneliness that we might share in the heights of His joyful communion; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. No wonder, when Jesus’ disciples asked Him to teach them how to speak to God, He gave them two words that changed their world; “Our Father”. The Gospel of God’s grace (Acts 20:24, (when served undiluted by religious additives), has the power to cause a metanoia in the lives of countless prodigals (Luke 15:17), who have walked away from religion because they were presented with a Scorekeeper not a Father. It also has the power to cause a metanoia in a Church full of elder brothers, full of questions and disappointment, striving to please a father we never knew (Luke 15:25-32).
“So let us preach the full light of the gospel, not the half-light of religion, for the nations have sat in the shadows for long enough. It is God’s will that it would also be said of this generation, “The people who have sat in darkness have seen a great light.” Religion has been the hope of the nations for too long. Now let us preach Christ alone, as the hope of the nations, by declaring the gospel undiluted, unleavened and unshackled from man’s performance. We have seen what religion; the gospel of the unfinished work, can do. Now let us see what the gospel of the finished work can do. Let us eat and drink of His Word over us; “Complete in Christ” (Colossians 2:10). Let us be filled with the joy of the Spirit over how completely Christ has saved us. Let the nations see our joy and ask us for the food that brings it and let us tell them that the fullness they see is His fullness that we have all received and grace for grace (John 1:16). Let us allow the gospel of His grace to unbind our hearts, which have been wrapped up for too long in our religious performance. Let the church begin to radiate the joy of heaven, the joy of the Father over His children restored. Let the sound of music and dancing , the sound of victory, the sound of heaven rise up in the Church, so that this generation looks up to see Christ in us and the Father they never knew.” ‘The Father we never knew.’ page 121.
My life so far!
- Christmas Eve 1963, I was born the second of seven children. I have three wonderful brothers and three amazing sisters. (I have to say that in case they read this blog!)
- September 1982. Having chosen to follow my father’s profession, I take the boat to England to start training at the Royal Veterinary College in London.
- September 1983. I meet the beautiful lady who would become my wife. Nicola had started her veterinary training a year later than me. She was from a little village in Leicestershire and knew next to nothing about Ireland. (I knew next to nothing about girls!)
- July 1987. I qualified as a vet and went to work in a mixed (large and small animal) practice in Devon. (Always a good idea if you are going to make mistakes, to do it as far from home as possible!)
- July 1988. Nicola qualified and took a job around 80 miles from me in Falmouth, Cornwall. After a year her system appeared to collapse. She was diagnosed with M.E, a crippling neurological condition, that in her case left her with no energy, constant dizziness, back pain and severe weight loss. She went home to be nursed by her parents and hope that complete rest would result in her recovery, but as the months went by her condition remained unchanged.
- October 1989. We were married in St Joseph’s catholic church in Leicester. Nicola managed to walk slowly up the aisle. At that time, a friend asked me if I should not reconsider marrying someone who could remain crippled. I thought he was mad. Who in their right mind would pass up the opportunity to marry the most beautiful woman in the world!!
- Late 1989. We moved to St Albans where I worked for two years in a small animal practice. Nicola’s condition remained unchanged.
- 1991. We returned to live in Derry, so that I could work with my father. Within weeks of arriving, Nicola came to faith in Jesus. She started to attend a local Pentecostal church. Six weeks later, on her way to the church to hear a visiting speaker, a friend asked her to describe her condition. Nicola named her four main symptoms. During the meeting that evening, the visiting minister shared that he felt he had a word from God for someone present and named the same four symptoms. Nicola went forward for prayer and experienced the power of the Holy Spirit. She was instantaneously healed. It was November 1991. For the following 18 months I struggled to reconcile my traditional catholic religious practice and views with what appeared to be the book of Acts unfolding in our home. All of my questions broke like waves against two rocks that I could not deny; Nicola was completely healed and she was operating in a dynamic of faith that I had never seen before.
- November 23rd 1992. Christopher, the first of our four wonderful children was born. In the years to follow, God blessed us with Hannah, Peter and Jotham and Nicola remained in perfect health.
- Early 1993. After 18 months of resisting the inevitable, I could not deny the call I felt to give my life over completely into God’s hands. Back then I might have said that I “asked Jesus into my life”. In truth, He had been inviting me into His life for years and through hearing the simple gospel, faith had now come for me to enter into the life He had prepared for me. I left behind my traditional upbringing and understanding of a God who was waiting in heaven for me, one day, (if I was good enough), and stepped into a world where He appeared to be working miracles in my back yard and wanted me to know Him in this life rather than the next! I knew this would not be easy in a religiously divided society, where it would be perceived that I had merely swapped one religious tradition for another. However my hunger to know God and what life was all about, was at a point where fear of what people would think could no longer restrain me. At my father’s request, I went to speak to a local catholic priest, to tell him my story; that I had ‘found’ Jesus, but not in the usual place! He graciously listened and told me to go back and tell my parents that they were to follow the example of Mary and “Let it be!”
- 2000. Several years after starting to attend the local Pentecostal church where Nicola was healed, I had become an elder (leader) there and more and more our lives revolved around growing the church and seeing other folk come into the experience of God that we had been nurtured in. Increasingly I found that I could not sustain the busy workload of my father’s vet practice and the church work. At this time I bowed out of general practice and we made do with the shift work I got as a vet at a local meat factory. During this period I undertook two courses of study; the ministry development course of the Apostolic Church UK and the St Stephens Course in Orthodox theology. The latter was run by the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. I completed two years of the course including their residency program based in Pennsylvania.
- 2004. I accepted a call to become pastor of our local church, an assembly of the Apostolic Church UK. I was ordained into that ministry in the same year and with that came more responsibility and commitment for both myself and Nicola. The years that followed saw some growth in the church but it was also a steep learning curve. Just as veterinary practice turned out to be all about people, rather than animals. so church life increasingly felt like we were trying to keep people happy enough to remain committed to the church. It felt like I had exchanged treating one type of sheep for another, but it appeared that both had a weakness for seeing the grass as greener somewhere else!
- 2012. The spinning plates started to crash! in this year a significant group of our young adults left the church. They were our bright hope for the future of the work and their departure precipitated a series of events that caused us to question both our calling and our idea of what ‘church’ was. I was increasingly concerned about the toll this was taking on our family, especially Nicola. Looking back now, we understand that childbirth is a messy business and in the midst of what looked a mess, God’s Spirit was opening our eyes to understand that He is the one who builds the Church, not us and that His work is a complete and finished work. In the years that followed, with the help of some great folk and resources God put our way, we began to see that the Gospel is not merely a means to an end, a tool that we can use to build a church. To attempt to use it in that way, will inevitably cause you to emphasise what people must do for God, (get busy at our church). This ‘little leaven’ takes the power out of the Gospel, for when the Gospel is a message entirely about what God has done for us, it is genuine good news, but when it is watered down to a message about what we need to do for God, it becomes mere good advice in a market place already full of good advice. When we preached the Gospel as good advice, we emphasised repentance as a work that we had to do (and keep doing) to move God. But when the Gospel is preached entirely as the good news of what God has done, repentance is not reduced to the lever we pull to move God, rather it is the supernatural fruit of the Holy Spirit at work through the Gospel message.
- Under the Gospel of God’s grace we have seen ourselves grow; out of church-life and into Christ-life, out of striving to make people commit to God and into the rest of knowing that when people truly hear what God has done for them, their hearts (what they believe about God and themselves) are changed. We now find we have to put no effort into ‘keeping’ people committed to God. We no longer have to mix a little of the Old Covenant into the New, a little guilt into the Gospel, to push people into serving God. Instead, Sunday by Sunday, we just preach the beautiful Gospel about the enormity of what Christ has done for us and when people hear and believe that God now relates to them entirely on the basis of Christ’s record, not theirs, the joy that brings is the strength that keeps them (Col.1:6).
- 2017. In coming back to the simplicity and power of the Gospel, it felt as if a floodgate had opened and a river starting flowing from within. This is the experience of the Holy Spirit in each of our lives that Christ promised (John7:38). For me personally, I felt a pressing need to begin to write down and record what I felt God was showing me and last year I gathered those notes together and self-published a book called “The Father we never knew” (The unbinding of the Lazarus Church, by the restoration of the Gospel). On my heart primarily, was a desire to leave our children a record of what God had done in us, to guide them in days to come. I also wanted to have a resource to place in the hands of Christian workers like myself, elder brothers striving to please God. I knew such discontented souls arrive into our church on a regular basis and that they hang on tightly to their years of service to God as their identity (Luke 15:25-32). When we have been under a gospel for years that has directed our attention to ourselves; (our faith, our repentance, our holiness, our ‘ministry’), it takes a while to be weaned off measuring yourself against everyone else. Such self-consciousness can be a divisive influence, for before folk learn to see by the spirit and see the grace of God at work in themselves and others, all they tend to see by the flesh, is sin and fault. The only relief they can find, is in seeing more in others than themselves! What the Holy Spirit wants us to see, is the new creation in Christ (2Cor.5:17, Col.3:3), for only when we see what Christ has done for us, can we be remain free from what men have done to us (Col.1:21-23). Our favourite saying in River City church these days is; “We are only scratching the surface of the goodness of God!”
- Below is a quote from ‘The Father we never knew”. (page 6)
- “A church that shrinks back from preaching God’s grace as unconditional does so because it knows nothing stronger than the threat of punishment to check men’s behaviour. What a tragic admission. If we really fear that lifting all threat of punishment off believers would cause them to run wild with sin, then what we are admitting is that years of ministry of our “gospel” have not changed the hearts of our hearers. They “behave” well, as children might behave under the supervision of a teacher, but in never being allowed out from under that yoke and its threats of punishment, they have been denied maturity. Their hearts have not be granted the opportunity to gain confidence in the power of the Spirit within them, to discover that God’s grace toward them is not just the forgiveness of their sins, but the power to change the very root of their being and the very desires of their heart (Ezekiel 36:26, Titus 2:11,12). ”