Sunday, December 31, 2006

Review of the year: 2006

This is now my 292nd posting of 2006, and we're on New Year's Eve. 2006 was the first full year of the blog - as it started in January of 2005. So what has hapened over the past year in the life of this random ordinand???

January started without blogging, as my laptop was down. Eventually when it was fixed, the blogging started again. My favourite posting was on the flight from Dublin to Prestwick, with clear skies and a good view of the whole M1 corridor, and Counties Down and Antrim. We also had the January Day organised by the Down and Dromore Youth Council (DDYC) and my first Sunday in Magheralin.
February was mostly college news, with the main event being the Approach mission event in Trinity College. We also had the lament over dodgy theology, which I have since encountered in many other places too...

March was the visit to Venice with College. A few great days emploring the city, taking in the sights, as well as enjoying great food. It was, of course, an educational visit, though, so we spent a few days at the Ecumenical Study Institute, meeting others from different denominations and cultures.

March also saw me back in Dundee for a week of my 'Easter' holidays. A special moment of that visit was the stargazing at the observatory.

April didn't have much excitement - apart from the end of my first year at college, and the observance of Easter. The Community weekend in College was over my birthday, but thankfully James and the rest of the messers didn't do anything on me - except buy me a nice cake!

May was my first attendance at the General Synod, and then contained exams... (Which I passed!).

June was a busy month. Scott and Donna got married.

Lynsey and me got engaged in Tollymore Forest Park.

Adrian was ordained.

July was my travelling month. In the course of the month, I was in London with Standeley at the Proc Trust Preaching Conference; in Scotland and France with Lynsey, Louise and Bryan; in Kent with the Mid-Ulster Battalion Boys' Brigade Camp.

August saw us doing some touristy stuff at home in Northern Ireland. My favourite day was the one spent on the north coast with Lynsey. It was my first time proper at the Giant's Causeway and Carrick-a-rede rope bridge, and even the rain couldn't stop my enjoyment!

September will go down in history as the 'Oh what a night' of 2006. Northern Ireland were playing Spain at Windsor Park in the European Championship Qualifiers, one year after having defeated England at the same venue. Sadly, also four days after having gone down to Iceland. And what happened? We only came back from a goal down twice, to win 3-2.

Other highlights of September were Bryan and Louise getting engaged, and my return to college to start second year!

October was a month of randomness, I have to admit. Lots of random postings on various topics, including the mystery visitor to Brown Thomas, a day trip to Ayr, the Delirious and Tim Hughes concert in Belfast, and the views from Flagstaff mountain:

November was the month of the Proclamation Trust Northern Ireland Minister's Assembly, held in Dollingstown, with Kent Hughes and David Jackman encouraging and teaching us to preach the word. Then it was over to Scotland for Lynsey's birthday weekend, and the driving range!

December on the blog contained a lot of complaining about Christmas coming so early, and the crowds and bustle and fuss of it all... I'm not a scrooge, I just don't see what all the rush has to do with the real meaning of Christmas. After all, when we had finished our turkey dinner last Monday, it was all over for another year... Other things happened too, though, including my trip to London, some carol singing, and some Christmas parties with time spent with friends.

So that was 2006, and I'll be ending it in my bed as I'm still not well... sore throat, lots of snot, warm or cold, and a bit weak. I've just seen on the tv that the Concert to be held at Belfast City Hall tonight for New Year's Eve has been cancelled due to the high winds... so it's more than just my New Year's eve which won't be happening...

A Happy New Year to you! Come back and read more of the blog in 2007!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Post-Christmas Cold

No, I'm not talking about the weather - it's been rather good weather since Christmas, with not much frost or fog... So I haven't been falling on my bottom in Dromara, or anywhere else.

Rather, I'm talking about the traditional cold I get just around the Sunday after Christmas. I don't know how or why I always get the cold in the week after Christmas, but somehow, I never manage to be able to speak or sing in church on the Sunday after Christmas. I thought I was getting away with it this year, but to no avail. And so I find myself in bed with a runny nose and sore throat. Yuck...

Not sure if I'll make it to church in the morning, but here goes with the traditional post-Christmas cold!!!

Friday, December 29, 2006

Movie Time

Having not been at the cinema for quite a while, I've now been there three times in three weeks! The first time was to see Black Christmas with Neil. The slasher flick was quite good, but the ending was a bit strange, and not overly satisfactory. Neil was rightly scared, though, which made it worth while!

Then last week we went to see Deck the Halls. This is a light-hearted Christmas film about neighbours rowing over lighting up their houses for the festive season. The stars are Matthew Broderick (of The Producers etc) and Danny de Vito. Rather funny, and not too much thinking required!

Tonight we went to see Night at the Museum. Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Robin Williams, Steve Coogan. You'd think it would be funny. It was ok. Some isolated funny moments, but it was just ok. Sort of like Jumanji - if you can remember back to that film? But it was good to have the three Wilky sisters and their menfolk together...

So I wonder if I'll be at the cinema early in 2007, or have I used up my cinema-going quota for the next wee while?

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Christmas Money

One of the signs of getting older is the fact that you get money as gifts rather than gifts... Santa no longer visits his toy shop, but rather the ATM cash machine!
At least with having money, or gift vouchers, you can buy what you really want, rather than whatever is given! And so it was that we ventured out into the madness of Belfast yesterday to spend some money...

I managed to get a few bargains - a jumper in Next, a book on Philip Pullman's 'His Dark Materials' Trilogy, a calendar, and a book of smoothies recipes (cos I bought one of those on Boxing Day in Curry's).

But we were also looking for mp3 players... and so I am now the proud owner of a Creative Zen V mp3 player. The previous one I had from Tesco wasn't great - it did me in the meantime but doesn't seem to want to work now. But the Zen V is absolutely brilliant! The 2 GB memory is plenty sufficient for me to have music on the go, and it's got a good, clear colour screen and easy to navigate menu. And so tiny!!!

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Day

So there we are, the final minute of Christmas Day 2006. The big day has come and gone. And what was it all about?

The day began in church, or rather, leaving church after the First Communion of Christmas - the best way to start the day. There was quite a big attendance, from what I could see, and most people communicated. Then the eating of turkey (we cook our turkey and ham on Christmas Eve evening). After that, it was out to Dromara and back, and into bed.

Neil woke us all at some time around 8am, to get us to go downstairs to exchange and open presents. Not as early as some of the families in church (including the family who were up at 2am... dear oh!), but early enough. I managed to drag out the giving of Neil's present to build up the hype. Eventually, he could stick it no longer and pleaded for it. And so he received the blown up, framed picture of 'that' Healy goal against England last year.

Then it was out to church for the family service, and back again for a friendly game of 'A Question of Sport' DVD game. Youngsters against the parents. And we won hands down!!! Hurray!

Then it was dinner - a great spread that I just couldn't finish... really yummy!

The evening has been spent in the company of the Wilky's at various locations, and was most enjoyable. My drawing skills were shown to be very poor, but my interpretation of modern art seemed to be quite good - as we played pictionary! And there were turkey sandwiches and other nibbles... not that we really needed more food, but I for one certainly managed to eat and eat!

Anyways, off to bed before a busy Boxing Day!

So here it is,,,

Merry Christmas!!!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

All is safely gathered in...

Ok, I promise this will be the last I mention Christmas shopping - for this year anyways... Thankfully I now have all I need for Christmas, having been with the family in Lisburn today. Surprisingly, it wasn't as bad as I had thought it would be - on driving into Lisburn there were no spaces in the Square, but Graham Gardens had 444 spaces... The queues weren't too bad in any shops, but then, having said that, we were in and out again by 1pm. Maybe it was worse this afternoon.

It was then on to Sainsbury's at Sprucefield for the final bits of grocery shopping. Again, not too bad - there were no more than 3 people in any of the queues at the tills, and the shelves had quite a bit of stuff left on them. Except where the tins of sweets etc were - not that we need any of them anyway!

And that's all the shopping done. Now I'm in the process of wrapping the presents... at which I am rather poor... they all turn out quite untidy. But ah well... it's the thought that counts!!!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Flirt to Convert?

The title of this posting is a phrase that was bandied about our youth group in my younger days. Flirt to convert. One friend in particular was very fond of the phrase.

I suppose it means that you go after a partner who isn't a Christian, trying to get them interested in the relationship, and as a consequence, they become a Christian. Slightly dodgy theology, to my mind. Much better to only seek to enter a relationship with a fellow Christian. And, I believe, a Scriptural principle too.

So while I was still in college, James (or was it Clare) told me about a website with that very title. I had a look, and laughed. So here, for you to look at, is the flirt to convert website. I think the wee lassie involved needs to get her head sorted out. And her theology straight as well!

The Christmas Cracker!

This is a version of the talk I used this morning at the Maralin Village Primary School carol service in Magheralin Parish Church. My props were the cracker, with the stuff inside, which was made last night, and larger versions of the three items.

This morning we're here to think again about the Christmas message. I've brought something special with me to help us. But you need to guess what it is. It's something we have on the table at Christmas Dinner. But you don't eat it. It is, of course, a cracker. Inside this special cracker, we have some things that will remind us of the Christmas message.

So after two kids pulled the cracker, we remove the things inside to see what they tell us about the Christmas story. Now, what do we normally find in a cracker? We have a joke, a party hat, and a toy. But this is a special one, so instead of a joke, we have a piece of paper giving us a Bible text - Matthew 1:18-25.

So the first thing we find in the cracker is a party hat. What shape is it? It's a crown. The crown reminds us of Jesus being the king. As we heard from one of our readings, the Magi came seeking the King of the Jews who had been born. Recently I was over in London, and visited the Tower of London. There, I got to see the Crown Jewels, worn by the Queen. They were all sparkly, and shiny, with the diamonds and the gold. But all that is nothing to the crown Jesus wears as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Jesus, the baby, is born King.

The next two items will help us to think about the names of Jesus we find in the passage. So the first item is a cross. But why have we got a cross when we're thinking about the Christmas story? Jesus means 'God saves.' And Jesus saved us through dying on the cross. At Christmas we think of the baby Jesus, but he grew up to live as a man, and to die on the cross for our sins, in our place. The cross was the reason Jesus was born, so that we would be saved.

The final thing we find in our cracker is a ring. The ring is a symbol of love and commitment. Back in the summer, I bought a ring, and asked Lynsey to marry me. Thankfully, she said yes, and we got engaged. But it was the ring that showed our love and commitment. Some people think that God is far away, watching us from a distance but not really caring about us. But the Christmas message is that God has come among us - Jesus is God in human form. God loved us so much that he sent Jesus to come among us, and save us. At the end of Matthew's Gospel, Jesus promised that he is always with us - 'And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age' (Matt 28:20).

So there we are, we have found the Christmas message in the cracker. Jesus, the baby is the King. He died to save us on the cross, and is the symbol of God's love. Happy Christmas!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Christmas Shopping Madness

I have never seen the like of it! [Maybe this should be my new catchphrase - I seem to be using it quote a lot recently...]

Today I was down in Marks and Spencer at Sprucefield to get a few things that were needed for Christmas presents etc. We thought it wouldn't be too bad for the crowds, but boys oh, it was shocking!

The Food Hall was particularly bad, with the queues stretching down the aisles, which then meant that other shoppers couldn't get down the aisles very well to see what was on the shelves. Such a crowd of people!!!

Then later, I heard that people were spending about two hours in Tesco to get their groceries. I'm dreading to think what it's going to be like on Saturday when I have to take mum for our shopping... aaaaaaagh!

Since when did Christmas become a frenzied rush of shopping and grabbing as much as possible? All this getting and spending, supposedly in honour of the One born in a stable; the One who went about without a place to lay his head. Complete madness!!!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


And just like that, the weather has changed! No longer is it foggy, but rather, we have the frosty weather I was talking about in the last post. Although I'm not so sure I'm entirely chuffed with the frost. For a start, it means that while you can see where you're going, it also means the roads themselves could be more treacherous. So better sight, but still slow speeds!

But even more so, there's a danger of another Thumbellina moment. The park in Dromara was quite sparkly tonight, with the gathering of frost. And I don't want to go down on my bottom like last December! So I have taken to parking on the stones in the drive, rather than having to go out on the slippery tarmac... but Lyns caught on straight away what I was up to!!!

Fog, fog and more fog

I think this is the worst fog I've ever seen... lasting for as long as it has, so far. Now, granted that this afternoon when I was coming back from Belfast there was a bit of clear sky over Hillsborough, but everywhere else there seems to be nothing but fog!

So the question is, does the weather make it more Christmassy, or less? We don't get to see the clear frosty evenings, and we aren't getting snow. On the other hand, it's darker...

But one thing that annoys me is the drivers who go out on the roads without any lights on at all. Are they blind? Have they no sense? How do they expect other cars to see them if they don't bother turning their lights on? Oh, I don't know! I just hope I don't hit one of those eejits!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Numbers Game

I've just finished reading David Jackman's book on 'Abraham' - a Bible Biography using the systematic continuous exposition method. It was really good, as all Jackman's books are.

But anyway, what I'm writing about is the 'numbers game'. It came to mind when visiting Sodom. Sodom and Gomorrah were evil cities. The outcry against them was great, and 'their sin is very grave' (Genesis 18:20). God told Abraham what he was planning, and Abraham kicked into intercessory mode. After all, his nephew Lot was living in Sodom, and appears to have been an elder of the city. If Sodom was destroyed, then Lot would be swept away too.

And so he appeals to God on the basis of God's own character: 'Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?' (Gen 18:23-25).

Abraham appeals to the justice of God, and so God relents, and promises that if fifty righteous people can be found in Sodom, then it will not be destroyed.

Abraham's faith grows with this, and so his confidence in being heard by God is enlarged. So back he goes, playing the numbers game in intercessory prayer. Down through 45, then 40, 30, 30 and down to 10. Like some sort of reverse auction, God relents with Abraham's faith-full prayers, and grants that if ten righteous people are in Sodom, it will not be destroyed.

We know the end result - Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. Ten righteous people could not be found. Lot, and his two daughters were saved. His wife looked back and was turned into a pillar of salt. His sons-in-law refused to believe, and remained in the city. Allbecause ten righteous people were not found.

Fast forward a few centuries, and we find the numbers game in operation again. This time, the city in question is Jerusalem. The judgement of God is coming on it, 'because their transgressions are many, their apostasies are great' (Jeremiah 5:6).

The challenge is set by God to Jeremiah: 'Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, look and take note! Search her squares to see if you can find a man, one who does justice and seeks truth, that I may pardon her. Though they say, "As the LORD lives," yet they swear falsely. O LORD, do not your eyes look for truth? You have struck them down, but they felt no anguish; you have consumed them, but they refused to take correction. They have made their faces harder than rock; they have refused to repent. Then I said, "These are only the poor' they have no sense; for they do not know the way of the LORD, the justice of their God. I will go to the great and will speak to them, for they know the way of the LORD, the justice of their God." But they all alike had broken the yoke; they had burst the bonds' (Jeremiah 5:1-5).

Sodom would have been saved by ten righteous men. Jerusalem would have been saved by one. Yet not one could be found. Not among the poor (1-3), nor even among the leaders of the people (4-5).

What of today? Could your town be saved by the presence of a righteous man or woman? Are you that person?

Monday, December 18, 2006

The guiding light

There has been some quare fog today... which impeded my driving to a certain extent. Today was when Lynsey came home from Scotland, and I was charged with collecting her from the airport.

This morning, the fog only seemed to be about Dromore and Lisburn - with three lorries in front of me going up the Pond Park road, we managed a top speed of 15mph... But over Dundrod, the sun came out, and it was a great day!

But on the way home, and also coming back to Dromore tonight, the fog has been very bad. It's a good job there are lines on the road and cats eyes, to let us know where the road turns. When there were no cars in front, the fog seemed particularly heavy, with nothing in front to show what way the road turned.

Yet on each journey, I managed to get behind a car, which meant that I had a guiding light. Suddenly, the road seemed to be clearer, and the way wasn't as difficult to find.

Made me think about finding our way in life - the future can seem foggy and unclear - yet Jesus is the bright morning star, and provides a light for us to follow. After all, the wise men also needed the light to find Jesus, the king they sought to worship.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Oh Come, All Ye Faithful

Just to get you in a Christmassy mood, here's a short video of the carol singing which is still going on every evening between 5pm and 9pm in Trafalgar Square, London. This is from last Tuesday night, and is the choir singing 'Oh Come All Ye Faithful.'

Church Next

Where do we go from here? I've just heard the news of the two Anglican parishes in Virginia which have decided to withdraw from the Episcopal Church, seeking instead to come under the structures of the Anglican Church of Nigeria. You can read about it from the BBC here.

So if the Episcopal Church splits, where does that leave the Anglican churches elsewhere?

Will we also face splits? What will the faultline be?

A lot of questions and not many answers at present...


We're now well into the season of Carol Services etc, and tonight is 'the big one' in Dromore Cathedral. The Carols by Candlelight service. The church always looks well, in darkness except for the flickering of candles. The traditional carols as well as some choir anthems. And of course the series of readings, taking us through God's purpose from Eden, through the prophets to the events in Bethlehem of 2000 years ago.

I'm singing in the choir this evening too, which I hadn't really planned on. But it's something I enjoy, so long as I have my starting notes! Part of the time I'll be singing bass, and the rest will be tenor - so a bit of moving around and playing with the harmonies. Just wish I had been to a practice or two beforehand!

Earlier in the week I happened upon a carol service in St Dunstan-in-the-West on Fleet Street. It was the Christmas celebration of the Fleet Street Talks - an initiative for Bible teaching for the business and legal community of Fleet Street. The rector of St Helen's Bishopsgate was the preacher, and the singing was very good. A soloist sang a hymn written by David Jackman - the president of Proclamation Trust, who speaks at the Fleet Street Talks sometimes.

One thing I noticed though, is that the English tend to sing Bethleeeeeehem, rather than Bethlehem. Wonder if that's common or just a London thing?

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Seasonal Reading

One of the benefits of being a church with a lectionary (a system of readings) is that it means you work through the seasons of the year. So, we begin with Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost and Trinity. That's the year in brief.

It takes us through the main events of Christ's life, in the different times of the year. Very useful, to make sure that we don't miss anything out...

And linked to this, I like to read a book relating to the season we're in. So, in the week leading up to Easter, I read something on the cross, or the crucifixion etc. Currently, we're in Advent, the season when we remember Christ's first coming, and also prepare ourselves for Jesus' Second Coming as King and Judge.

So my seasonal reading was a wee book by WJ Grier, called 'The Momentous Event.' John Grier is the proprietor of the Evangelical Bookshop in Belfast, with his distinctive accent. The book is subtitled 'A Discussion of Scripture Teaching on the Second Advent.' It looks at the three positions of pre-, post- and a- millenialism - as relating to the question of when (or if) the thousand year reign of Christ on earth will occur - before the rapture, after the rapture, or if it's not to be taken literally. (As found in Revelation 20:4)

Prior to reading the book, I must confess to being very confused on the whole thing. Now, I think I'm more clear on my own position, and better able to use the Scriptures to support it. So, ladies and gentlemen, I announce that I am an a-millenialist.

The important thing to remember, though, is that Jesus is coming back! Be ready!

The Decline of the Bookshop

It is with great sadness that I report the demise of one of my favourite bookshops. The Bridge Bookshop in Bridge Street in Lisburn was rather very good, and always well stocked with plenty of Christian books and commentaries.

However, it is now shut, and the premises are up for sale.

Does anyone know what happened to it? The owner was a Presbyterian minister who didn't have a charge.

Friday, December 15, 2006

'Big Ben'

Below are some photos of St Stephen's Tower, in the Palace of Westminster. Most people know it as Big Ben, but Big Ben is actually the bell inside the tower... So here goes on my latest photo set from London!

The London Eye - by day and night

The London Eye is the major attraction across the Thames from the Palace of Westminster. I didn't go on it this time, as I've been on it twice before - but it still featured in some of my photographs of the scenery. So here we go, the London Eye by day:
And the London Eye by night, taken from outside the Ministry of Defence building on Whitehall:

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Old Magic

Like him or loathe him, I've started to read the Harry Potter stories. So far I've got through the first four, since starting them in July - but don't worry, it hasn't taken me that long - I read one, then wait til I have read about ten or so books before getting into the next one. Although I left it a bit longer for the fourth...

So anyway, I started it at the airport on Monday morning, very early. In fact, so early that the security screening hadn't even opened. And I finished it last night on the plane, just after we eventually took off.

But what I want to write about is the lingering notion of the substitutionary sacrifice. I can't find the exact page now, mores the pity, but when He Who Must Not Be Named (Voldemort to you and me, cos I'm not afeared of him) rises, he takes blood from Harry, his enemy to help him rise. Harry's blood is seen to be powerful, because he had been able to defeat Voldemort as a baby - due to the sacrifice of his mother. Voldemort had tried to kill Harry, but his mother gave herself in his place, and Harry survived. The power is said to lie in 'the old magic' (or is it the 'older magic'?).

When I read that, I thought of the 'Deeper Magic' in Narnia, when Aslan dies in place of the traitor. The Deep Magic which the witch appeals to demands the blood of the traitor. But Aslan's Deeper Magic allows the traitor to go free when one who has committed no guile dies in their stead. And Aslan rises to a new life.

Amazing that tales of fiction depend on the notion of sacrifice and substitution which remind us of the sacrifice of Jesus, who took our sins upon him, and died in our place - the 'Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me' (Galatians 2:20).

Christmas in London - more photos

Continuing my publication of some photos form London, the next collection is a series of Christmas ones. First up, the tree in Trafalgar Square, beside Nelson's Column:
The tree viewed from a different angle, through the fountain in Trafalgar Square:
The Christmas tree outside the Houses of Parliament at the Palace of Westminster
Regent Street decorated with the Christmas lights:

Buckingham Palace photos

Just a few photographs of Buckingham Palace, the home of HM Queen Elizabeth II. On Monday, she wasn't in - the Union Flag is flying, but the night time photos further down are from Tuesday night, when she was in residence - the Royal Standard was flying. You can't see it though - I was too busy playing with the night time settings on the camera to get some light effects!

I love the taxi fading in or out of this picture:

"Trinity College, Dublin"

On Monday evening, I was crossing the road at Picadilly Circus, minding my own business, looking around at the sights and making sure I wouldn't be hit by a red bus, a black taxi, or a cyclist!

When suddenly, a man crossing the road the other way said, as he passed me: "Trinity College Dublin".

And that was it.

I wondered what he was at, then remembered I was wearing my Trinity scarf - the distinctive red, dark blue and light blue colours.

So now I'm wondering if he was a graduate himself, or just a saddo who 'spots' the colours of educational establishments? I'll never know, because he continued on, turning back only to see me nodding to say he had got it right, and he nodded in approval. And that was it!

What a strange moment in the middle of the all bustle of London...

Home, eventually

So here I am, back at home again, back in rainy Northern Ireland, after my wee trip to London. The next few posts will be short reflections on the trip, and some photographs as well... but for now, I'll explain the 'eventually' in the title.

I got to Stansted in good time last night, and went through security with no problems... thankfully my days of beeping in the metal detector are past! We boarded the flight on time, and about two minutes before we were due to pull back and take off, there was an announcement from the flight deck.

We would be delayed by an hour, due to a problem with Scottish airspace. Cue the usual sounds - The inevitable groans echoed around the plane. Then the noise of mobiles being switched on. Then virtually everyone repeating the message of the pilot.

Just as we had done that, there was a second announcement, saying it would be a two hour delay now - making it after 11pm before we would be taking off. Something about a problem with the computers in the Scottish area of airspace.

So again, the noise of mobiles and annoyed phone calls.

And then... a gleam of hope - suddenly the plane started moving, and we were being re-routed by Dublin! So it turned out we were only about half an hour late, and it could have been so much worser!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

London, Baby!

Just a quick posting from London... my feet are tired, my legs are sore - must be all the walking and sight-seeing I've been doing.

So far, the highlights have included the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, Oxford Street, Carols at Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey, HMS Belfast, Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, the Bank of England (where I touched a real gold bar!), and various other parts of the city.

Tomorrow's the last day, then it will be home again to Northern Ireland...

Sunday, December 10, 2006

New Prayer Letter

Christmas Greetings from Dublin!

It’s now the final week of term, and I’ve only just been able to get round to writing my latest prayer letter. Things have been hectic this term – with more work to be done than last year, including more essays. Thankfully they have all been done (well, until the next batch start in January!). Give thanks for God’s faithfulness in the midst of the hard work.

This term has also brought my placement in Magheralin, which has been very enjoyable. Having previously been preaching there, it was good to combine it with some pastoral visits. Pray for Gareth and the parishioners of Magheralin.

We were also blessed with a good bunch of new colleagues who are passionate for Jesus. They have been a great encouragement here in college. Pray for the new students, and also for those who will soon attend Selection Conference for next year.

Recently, the Curacy List was published – the vacancies to be filled by the current third years after their ordination in June. Pray for guidance for the 3rd years as they consider where God is calling them to minister.

The arrangements for training ministers are facing major changes in the next few years. The plans are currently being discussed, and will become public soon. Pray for the Bishops and others as they plan for the new training scheme.

In addition to all that’s going on in college, plans are advancing for our wedding in 2008. It can be tough, being so far away from Lynsey, but thanks to the wonders of low-cost flights, we manage to see each other fairly regularly, and are looking forward to the Christmas holidays together. Pray for Lynsey and me, and our families.

Lastly, can I again thank you for your support and prayers? Your help makes it easier to keep going, and together we will see the advance of God’s kingdom. Be assured of my prayers at this Christmas time.

‘For unto you is born this day in the city of David
a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord’ (Luke 2:11)

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Culchie Shopping Day

I forgot to write about this yesterday, so here goes. Seemingly yesterday was 'Culchie Shopping Day' in Ireland. It may not be the official name of it, but that's how it was described on the radio.

Basically, the situation is as follows. All the Catholic schools have a day off in December to allow the kids to go shopping for Christmas. There are special train prices for day returns to the cities.

And yesterday was the day.

So Stan and me were for leaving college at the same time - just as it happened. The advice given by a Dublin female was to avoid the M50 - the motorway around the city - as it would be choc-a-bloc. So Stan took the advice, and set off on a route through the city centre. I, on the other hand, ignored the advice, thinking that if the kids were having special train fares, and they were shopping in the city centre, then the city centre would be the last place you would want to be... so it was the M50 for me.

It was the clearest I have ever seen the road!!!

Stan, on the other hand got stuck in a traffic jam relatively quickly, and had to turn back for the M50 when I told him how it was free-flowing!

I'm not sure of the moral of the story - weigh advice carefully, perhaps?

Friday, December 08, 2006

Quoted elsewhere

You never know where your words are going to end up. As you may know, I use Technorati - a site where you can favourite blogs, read their feed, and explore blogs. I noticed there was a new link back to this blog today - and it comes from the Christian Dating News blog.

I'm not quite sure why my posting - on Catholicism and Christianity - was picked up, or what it has to do with dating, but there you go...

Advent Carol Service

On Wednesday night we had the College Advent Carol Service. This year it was held in the Church of Ireland College of Education - where teachers are trained in Rathmines. As such, with a much bigger chapel, it was open to the public - having been advertised in the C of I Gazette, and quite a lot of people were in attendance.

You might have seen the words 'Carol Service' and thought it was all O Come let us adore him, and Silent Night. No, and no. It was an Advent Carol service, which means it was carols from advent. So the opener was O come, o come Emmanuel - that wonderfully dismal hymn. The first four verses were choir solo verses - I was singing the first verse, and it all seemed to go well. Even better, we all managed to stay in pitch! The fourth verse was Colin and Clare, but lots of people thought it was me and Clare, so I don't know whether it was a compliment for me or Colin, or neither of us!

The choir sang three songs - 'Great Day' - a negro spiritual adapted for use by us; 'Comfort, comfort now my people' - one we sang last year, only in three-part harmony rather than the more complicated four-part harmony of last year; and 'The angel Gabriel from heaven came' - a standard anthem I think I've sung every year for the past 15...

Readings were done by students, residents and staff, and there were other congregational songs.

The Archbishop of Dublin was in attendance, but he didn't really do anything apart from the blessing at the end.

Mince pies were dished out after the service in another part of the College complex.

Social event after social event...

Ok, so seeing the anonymous commenter has returned, and has reminded me of what I should be writing about, here goes...

Tuesday afternoon was our afternoon out with the lecturer - we lunched in Cafe-en-Seine on Dublin's Dawson Street. From the outside, it looks like a small pokey cafe. However, when you go inside, it opens out into two vast chambers with a huge bar, great atmosphere and good food.

The afternoon was pleasant and relaxing after a busy term.

More happened on Tuesday, but we'll stick for now with the social event after social event details. So last night was the next actual social event - we had the college Christmas dinner and party.

The kitchen staff were amazing, producing a great Christmas dinner, and a good atmosphere with the refectory (the dining room) ambiently lit by candles. After speeches, and the announcement of the new Sacristans (congratulations to Stephen and Martin), we retired to the Hartin Room for the party.

As tradition dictates, the first years were in charge of the organising, and they did a great job. The theme was James Bond - so lots of tuxes and evening gowns were on show. A couple of guys even made it in full highland dress! My costume consisted of turning up in a dressy shirt and black trousers, and I brought my duvet too - I was an undercover agent!

As well as lots of music and dancing, there was a 'Test the Congregation' quiz - with awfully difficult questions - and some Awards. I came away with one of them - the Preaching Award, for which I got a wooden spoon, with which to stir up some challenge!

When the dancing started again, I retired to my room as tiredness came over me. I missed the piper, but sure I see enough bagpipes in the year!

And thus we come to the end of the social update!

Home for the holidays!

So there we are... I'm home and all for the holidays, and glad to be so!

This was a busy, busy week and I'm now quite tired, but at least I'm home!

When I have a bit of time later I'll write a bit more on some of the things I've been up to this week.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Last Week!!!

So here we go. The final week of the first term of second year. Just about to start. Hurray! The month's holiday is almost here!

But what a busy week to get through first. Tomorrow, there's nothing out of the ordinary (as far as I'm aware). Tuesday we're going to lunch with a lecturer, then College Fellowship in the evening (Philip Patterson looking at the Old Testament). Wednesday is the College Advent Carol Service. Thursday is the College Christmas Dinner and party (organised by the First Years with a James Bond theme). Friday is home!

Then I have a few days in London to look forward to next week, before Lynsey comes home for her holidays. Hurray, hurray, hurray!

Now I just have to battle the elements to get to Dublin - the wind, rain and floods have been gathering all day... Good job I have new tyres on the wagon!

Signs of the Coming - A sermon preached in Magheralin at 'Good News at Ten' on 3rd December 2006. Luke 21:25-36

Have you ever been to a surprise party? A few years back we had a surprise birthday party for my gran’s 80th birthday. For weeks, we had been arranging it – making sure people could come, getting the food sorted, and the entertainment.

We concocted the cover story – she would be going out for a meal with my parents that night, and she was all ready. In the meantime, all the guests had arrived at the venue, making sure to be there before she arrived.

As the guests arrived, we had good time meeting up with relatives and friends, hearing of their news, and catching up on stories. But that wasn’t the reason we were there. The special guest hadn’t arrived yet.

The whole point of the surprise party was for it to be a surprise. And to be a surprise, we would need to know when she was coming, so the lights could be out, and we would all be quiet. How would we know when gran was arriving? What were the signs of her arriving?

Well, we had made sure that mum would ring through on her mobile to someone in the room when they were leaving. Then when they arrived, the car horn was tooted to warn us. When we heard this, we knew gran was about to arrive, and we had to be quiet, with the lights out.

She got a big shock that night as she walked into the dark room, and saw all the familiar faces as the lights came on. We had a great night after that, enjoying the party! But we needed the warning that she was coming – the signs to let us know she was arriving.

Or what about the arrival of Christmas? What signs are there that Christmas is coming near? Today is Advent Sunday, and Christmas is just three weeks tomorrow. For several weeks now, the Christmas trees have been going up in towns and villages. We’ve seen the shops full of the toys, and lights and trees. Even though they appear in the shops and town centres from the middle (or start of November), they’re still a sign that Christmas is coming.

In our reading today, Jesus is talking about another arriving - the time when he will return to the earth again. So you might be asking, when is Jesus going to come back? After all, it’s been about 2000 years so far, and he hasn’t returned yet.

But he says there are certain signs that will show that his kingdom is near – and his return will happen then.

‘There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

These might sound scary, or create fear and worry in us – but Jesus says that they show us that he is coming soon. He goes on to say: ‘At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.’

Even though the nations are in uproar, and bad things are happening – we don’t need to be afraid, or concerned. This is because they are signs, pointers that Jesus is coming back soon. Indeed, he then tells us to be watching out for him.

He says: ‘When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’ Jesus encourages us to be watching for him, to be ready for when he arrives.

Because when he does, our redemption is drawing near – that is, Jesus will come back to take us to be with him. He will be with us, and we will be with him. We will be changed and transformed to be like him. As we read in Titus, 'we wait for the blessed hope - the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.' (Titus 2:13)

Jesus then gives us another way of putting it. As you might know, Jesus liked to tell parables, to explain the things he wanted to say in ways that were easy to understand. In some ways, my two stories at the start, about gran’s surprise party, and the shops at Christmas time were a bit like Jesus’ parables.

Here’s how Jesus said it – ‘Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.’

I don’t know about your mum, but mine always makes some comment on the trees… For example, last week when we were out for a drive, she talked about the lovely colours of the leaves, and the leaves all falling to the ground. When that happens, we know we’re in autumn. Then in a few months time, when the blossom comes out on the trees, and the new leaves start to grow, we’ll know that we’re in springtime again. The leaves coming on the trees are a sign that summer is near.

Jesus tells us, therefore, that just as we can all see the signs of summer coming by looking at the trees and the new leaves, so we can also see that Jesus is coming soon by all the signs of his coming. All those signs we talked about – the nations in anguish, the terror, and the shaking.

So just as we have the signs of Jesus’ arrival, we know he is coming soon. In that sense, it’s like my gran’s birthday party. But Jesus’ coming is going to be different, too – we don’t know when he is going to arrive. We can’t arrange it all the way we had arranged what time gran would arrive at her party.

We simply don’t know when Jesus is coming back. But we have to be ready for his arrival. As I said earlier, because it has been so long, and he still hasn’t arrived back, some people ignore the promise, or else think he isn’t going to return. But as he says, ‘Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.’ What Jesus has said will happen, will happen.

So how should we live? What do we need to do to be ready for his coming? ‘Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch and pray that you may escape al that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.’

We should be careful, watching and praying for his return. Not forgetting about it, or getting bogged down in other things. As the verse in Titus told us, we are waiting for our blessed hope - the glorious appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ. When he arrives, we who know him and who love him will be with him in his kingdom for the feasting of heaven and all the joy of that neverending party. What more incentive do we need now to watch and pray, to be ready?

Jesus is coming back. He has said so himself. He has told us about the signs of his coming. And we need to be ready for his coming, by watching and praying for it. And when he comes, we will be with him!

Freaky pic!

Every so often, my beard gets so bushy that it has to be trimmed. Last night was one such occasion. For some reason, I was in a funny mood, so stopped halfway through for a photo!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Catholicism and Christianity

What do you make of the two things - Catholicism and Christianity? Do we speak of the same thing in two different ways? Are Roman Catholics Christians?

I'm not going to give an opinion - for now - as much as provide a quotation from David McWilliams' new book 'The Pope's Children'. McWilliams is writing an account of Ireland's new elite - the generation born in and around the visit of the Pope in 1979. The generation of the Celtic Tiger, the huge rise in living standards, house prices and wealth.

And what does McWilliams say in the book that provoked my question? In a throw-away line on page 223, he says the following:

Numbers attending evangelical Christian churches are up 1000% in ten years and 78% of these people are born in Ireland, having converted from Catholicism.

The clear implication is that evangelical Christians are different to Catholicism, and that 'conversion' (whatever is meant), is needed. An interesting observation!

Friday, December 01, 2006


So here we are, now into December... where has this year gone?

Today is the day that the chocolate advent calendars start - but I don't have one this year - and so our attention looks towards Christmas. Even though the shops have been focused on Christmas since the middle of October (or earlier).

Now starts the millions of carol services to be endured. The Christmas parties and dinners. The shops. The crowds. And all for what?

Thursday, November 30, 2006

New Summer Madness CD

Yes, the new Summer Madness CD has finaly arrived!!! Tim Hughes, Johnny Parks, Ian Hannah and others are just waiting to burst onto your music system via cd to remind you of the worship from this year's festival. If you click on it, you might even be one of the first 150 to get a signed copy!

And what of the cd? It's great... really, really good, and worth a waiting for. Sadly there wasn't a cd last year, but its back this year, and as good as ever!

All The Scriptures

Just a quick posting to let you know about a new blog I've set up with some friends. It is All The Scriptures, and is going to be a place to share sermons, Bible studies and thoughts from our Bible-reading.
If you would like to help by commenting and giving feedback on the sermons, or by contributing sermons, then let me know...

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Second Birthday

It's not just the Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth who has two birthdays. Today is my second birthday. No, I haven't just turned two. I'm 25... for another wee while anyway...

But it is 14 years to the day when I became a Christian. It was the last night of a mission held in our church, during the Decade of Evangelism. The visiting preacher and evangelist was Neil (or Neal) Steadman, from Cumbria. I had been involved in the dramas and youth elements of the mission, and on that last night, Sunday 29th November 1992, he asked people to stand if they had been affected by the week, or had made a decision.

And I stood.

I'm not saying that by standing up I was made a Christian - it was only an outward symbol of what was happening inside, a declaration of sorts. But it definitely happened. No longer was I trusting in myself. I was trusting in Jesus and his cross. No longer did I think I could be good enough for God, and do enough good things for him, or that he would accept me for my goodness. I was trusting in Jesus and his cross, and what God in Christ did for me.

Fourteen years. A long time. I'm not saying I always get it right. I'm not saying it has been a perfect discipleship. I still mess up and get things wrong. And still struggle.

But God who has started a good work in me will bring it to completion. Amen - because I couldn't do it on my own!

I have decided to follow Jesus,
I have decided to follow Jesus,
I have decided to follow Jesus,
No turning back. No turning back.

The world behind me, the cross before me.
The world behind me, the cross before me.
The world behind me, the cross before me.
No turning back. No turning back.

Where Jesus leads me, I'll surely follow.
Where Jesus leads me, I'll surely follow.
Where Jesus leads me, I'll surely follow.
No turning back. No turning back.

The Year of the Engagement

I think 2006 will be remembered by me as the year of the engagement. Not just for Lynsey and me - obviously that is primarily in our minds. But also for the many other friends who have gotten engaged this year.

Stanley and Sarah - on the same day as we got engaged - how freaky was that?

Bryan and Louise. (Bryan and me are looking forward to being joined in matrimony - to quote James.)

Lorna and Colin.

Pamela and Paul.

And now Primrose and Dan. This is the big news this week, and I'm so chuffed for you two!!!

Congratulations to all the couples above.

Now, I wonder if there'll be any more before the end of the year???

Monday, November 27, 2006


Occasionally when out driving, I encounter some wildlife.

You may recall my last run-in with the wildlife - when I met a badger on the Dromara Road in August... my poor car horn hasn't been the same since. The 'asthmatic horn' to quote Lynsey, James and Standeley...

Anyways, the odd time I have to travel down the Garvaghy Road on my way to Dublin. But don't worry, it's not a coat-trailing sectarian thing... it's the Garvaghy Road in BT32, between Dromore / Waringsford / Banbridge. Neil's boss lives there, and his time sheets are delivered there...

So last night I was going up the road, when suddenly a fox leaped up onto a garden wall (from the house and garden), bounced on top of the wall, jumped out into the road in front of me, and flew into the hedge...

Rather impressive!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Mothers Union

Presbyterian friends joke about their own Paramilitary Womens Association (PWA) - this morning we had the enrollment service of our own version in the Cathedral. The Mothers Union were out in force, all sitting together in the pews in the tower aisle - a formidable bunch of ladies!

My sermon (see below) didn't really mention the Mothers Union as such. I prefer to preach from the Scriptures, with its message for all in church, not just the specific few getting enrolled... hence the message on Christ the King from Daniel 7.

And then it was into the jiggery pokery, with promises and handshakes and hugs etc...

So the Dromore Cathedral Branch of the Mothers Union have been enrolled for another year of whatever they get up to! (No doubt their head woman, Mrs McFarland, will put me right on this when she gets around to reading this!!!)

The Ancient of Days and the Son of Man: A Sermon preached in Dromore Cathedral on 26th November 2006. Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14 (RCL Reading)

America and Britain should get out of Iraq immediately. That is the opinion of some observers, who think that the activities of the two countries are a form of empire building – seeking to extend their power and authority. It is a big question, after all, although perhaps more so for America than Britain, as it tries to be the world’s policeman.

Is there anyone in charge of the world? Can the kingdoms – or empires of today do as they wish? Is there any higher authority which can decide what is fair?

The Book of Daniel is a popular one for Christians. It is, after all, a rich mine of stories for Sunday School, and for the rest of us as well. There we find Daniel in the lion’s den, and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace. Yet these stories, and others, are found in the first half of the book – up to chapter six.

It might well be as far as we get when we read it through – before we encounter strange visions of beasts and creatures, kings and angels. When we reach chapter seven, then, most of us either struggle through, not really understanding what we’re reading, or else consigning it to oblivion or the conspiracy theorists who seek to interpret the prophecies for us.

However, with these few words of introduction, we find that our Old Testament reading today is from Daniel 7. What should we do? Will we ignore it, or will we work at it, to see what God is saying through his word?

Sadly, the lectionary – or rather, the people who design the lectionary – have chosen to give us only a few verses of Daniel 7 for our reading. If you have a Bible with you, you’ll find it useful to look at Daniel 7. And if not, then try and bring a Bible in future!

As the chapter opens, Daniel first notes that he had a vision, then he begins to describe it. Here we find the strange beasts we talked about earlier – one like a lion with eagle’s wings (4); another like a bear (5); another like a leopard (6), and the fourth which isn’t described – except that it is ‘terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong’ (7). From this fourth beast, there comes ten horns, and then another which has a mouth ‘speaking great things’ (8) – or as the NIV puts it, ‘a mouth that spoke boastfully.’

Is your imagination running wild? Are you picturing these strange beasts? What could they be? Thankfully, we are not left on our own to decide what these beasts and horns could be. Later in the chapter, Daniel is granted the explanation. The beasts, from verse 17, are ‘four kings who shall arise out of the earth.’ That is, these beasts are kingdoms, or empires. The horns, then, are ten kings who arise in the last kingdom – with another king coming after them.

It is as the great king of the fourth kingdom speaks boastfully, that we arrive at the start of our reading. In the midst of all the political dealings and empire building on earth, then, ‘thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat.’

While the drama of the earth takes place, with its pomp and politics, another ruler is seated on the throne high above. The ‘Ancient of Days’. Who could this be? Surely this is God Almighty himself.

Notice the glory of the Ancient of Days – his clothing as white as snow, and his hair like pure wool. His throne is fiery flames, and its wheels were burning flame. Truly, Hebrews 12:29 can tell us ‘our God is a consuming fire’. Do you see the purity, the holiness of God? His clothes being white as snow – cleaner than Daz or Surf could ever get them, and fire – that which purifies and refines? The fire even issues out in a stream before him.

Yet he is not alone – we see here a glimpse of the throne-room of God, the centrepiece of heaven, where ‘a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand time ten thousand stood before him.’ What a vast number of angels, standing before him and serving him.

But notice that it is not just the throne-room of heaven we see here. Nor is it just the place where the worship takes place. Further, it is a court room. ‘The courts sat in judgement, and the books were opened.’ Our God who rules, our holy God who receives the worship of thousands and thousands, is also the God of justice – sitting in judgement in the highest high court.

And what is the judgement? These are the verses we missed from the middle of the reading – but the judgement is against the boasting beast, and the other beasts. The kingdoms of this world, and the nations are under the judgement of God – yes, to us now the government may seem impressive and all-powerful, as they make laws for us and affect our lives in so many ways. Yet they are under the ultimate authority and judgement of God.

Yet Daniel’s vision isn’t over. There is more to be seen, and to be thought about. I said earlier that the Ancient of Days was not alone, and that was true – after all, the thousands of angels are present with him. And yet, there was someone missing. In verse 9 we noted that thrones were set in place… yet only the Ancient of Days sat down. There is an empty throne. Who would fill it?

Suddenly, Daniel sees the only possible candidate. ‘Behold, with the clouds of heaven, then came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.’ To us, as we read these words, it is obvious who they point to. After all, in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus uses it to describe himself 28 times. There, he speaks of the ‘Son of Man [who] came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Matt 20:28), and when asking the disciples who they think he is, uses the title ‘Son of Man’ (Matt 16:13).

The phrase points to the humanity of Jesus – as can be seen if you even browse the book of Ezekiel – the phrase is used there 93 times, to describe Ezekiel – as God talks to him, calling him ‘son of man.’

And what happens to the Son of Man, the man, who is presented before the Ancient of Days? Will he also be consumed with fire from the throne? Will he be judged by the Almighty Judge?

No! Rather, ‘to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.’

The vacant throne is taken, given to this Son of Man by the Ancient of Days. He shares in the glory of God, as he shares in the reign of the universe. Notice that all peoples, nations and languages will serve him – this Son of Man claims the allegiance of all people, whether they choose to worship him or not.

Our passage this morning has echoes of Philippians 2 – even as we see the contrast. The boastful king of the fourth kingdom was cut down in judgement, whereas Jesus, the humble king, was exalted and glorified. ‘Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father’ (Phil 2:9-11).

Notice also, that this kingdom, once taken by the son of man – by Jesus – isn’t going to pass away like the kingdoms of earth. With the judgement of God in verses 11 and 12, the power of the empires was taken away. Or, in more recent history, think of the British Empire – that proud institution which lasted so long, and covered so much of the earth. It too has now all but vanished.

But the kingdom of Christ ‘is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.’ As our New Testament reading in Revelation 1 tells us, the kingdom has arrived – Christ is enthroned and reigning. The everlasting dominion has begun, and will not end. It is here to stay.

The question and challenge this morning is therefore – what will you do with this son of man? Do you recognise Jesus as your king? Or will you reject him as king now, living as you please? Because, either way, as Philippians reminds us, every knee will bow and every tongue confess him as king. As the song ‘come, now is the time to worship’ reminds us –

‘One day every tongue will confess you are God,
One day every knee will bow,
Still the greatest treasure remains
For those who gladly choose you now.’

The kingdoms and powerful nations of earth are not all powerful. There is one who is judging and ruling over them. That one is the son of man, who took the throne with the Ancient of Days. Will you submit to his rule, and come into his kingdom today?

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The world's getting smaller

Well, maybe not the whole world, but certainly my bit of it. Since last week, Dublin has gotten two minutes closer to Dromore! Hurray for that!

But how, I hear you say... well, the final three miles of the Loughbrickland to Beech Hill A1 Dual Carriageway project has been completed, the speed restrictions have been lifted, and the dual carriageway is ready to roll.

Not bad, although it was originally planned to be completed by Summer 2006, so it's just slightly late...

I now can't wait until the full cross-border dual carriageway / motorway scheme is complete - giving me a clear run of dual carriageway (and thus overtaking opportunity) the whole way from Dromore to Dublin!

Love Your Neighbourhood

I'm not long back from placement there - on a Saturday this week, rather than Friday, as I wanted to get involved in the 'Love Your Neighbourhood' project in Magheralin and Dollingstown.

So what is it, I hear you say. Love Your Neighbourhood is an outreach project, where members of the parish knock on every door in the two villages, give them a special free gift, as well as information about church and inviting them to come along. If possible, we got talking to the people, but if not, then we left the stuff in their letterbox.

Last Easter, the gift was creme eggs. This time, in the run-up to Christmas, the gift was a roll of sticky tape. What's that all about, I hear you say... Well, it's linked to Colossians 1:17 - 'He is before all things, and in him all things hold together'- obviously speaking of Jesus. It will also come in handy for people to do Christmas gift wrapping with.

So with a team of about 30 people, we started at about 10.30am and had Dollingstown done by 12.30pm, before lunchtime, and then down into Magheralin to blitz the village! I don't think I have knocked as many doors in the one day before - but really enjoyed it!

Who knows what the leaflets, and the 'random act of kindness' will achieve in the long run?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

College Fellowship

Just another quick posting after tonight's College Fellowship. We were pleased
to welcome Ian Hannah along, who spoke on the theme of prayer and worship. Ian
is the worship leader at St Patrick's Coleraine, and is also involved in the
worship at Summer Madness and New Horizon. After his talk, we went to the
Chapel for Sung Compline - perhaps the biggest crowd in recent times at it -
unfortunately I was leading. Think it went ok. After that, Ian led a time of
worhsip and prayer - putting into practice the model used at Engage24, a 24/7
worship event in Coleraine.

I'm really pleased that we have been able to get such good speakers this year at
CF, and am praying for the rest of the year's meetings, that we will be
similarly, and even more so, blessed!

Blind Testing

Smirnoff's latest ad campaign tells us that in the New York Times Blind Taste
Test, their vodka was chosen as best out of all the vodka samples.

Was that not a bit irresponsible of the New York Times to give so much alcohol
to blind people???

Monday, November 20, 2006


Hi there! Just a wee quick posting to see if I can blog using email. I had set
it up before, but might come to rely on it a bit more when in Dublin. Yes, it's
the old college wireless network problems again.

Now, the wireless seems to be working, but is rather very slow. Suppose with 40
odd people trying to get their emails all down the line and jumping into
mid-air at the same time, it's no wonder it's slow.

So this is the test, so see if my Trinity email account will blog - hotmail is
also very slow at loading up over the wireless, and the compose email page
never properly loads.

Here's hoping!

Oh, of course, the problem with blogging via email is that you can't add tags -
these will have to be added at a later date...

For now, it's back to the New Testament essay which is due on Friday. Fun, fun,

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Fiery Furnace: A Sermon Preached in Magheralin on 19th November 2006. Daniel 3:13-30

Idols are all around us. The cult of the celebrity is everywhere – on tv, in newspapers, and on the internet. Just think of the X-factor, or Pop Idol. What about the crowds that flocked yesterday to get a glimpse of Tom Cruise at his wedding?

However, it’s not just celebrities who claim our allegiance and worship. Our society is obsessed with money and wealth; getting and spending. The expectation is for us to join in the worship of wealth – so how do we react in the situation? Our friends, colleagues, families expect us to bow down and worship money, just like them. What will we do?

Our Old Testament reading tonight brings us to Babylon, during the time of the exile. The leading citizens of Jersualem had been carried off to Babylon, and the temple destroyed. What would the Jews do then? These people of God – without a temple, and so far from home – what would they do?

Would they merge into the surrounding culture, make themselves comfortable in Babylon, and start worshipping the Babylonian gods? Or would they maintain their faith and trust in God, despite being so far away?

Especially since the king, Nebuchadnezzar, had unveiled a new statue to be worshipped. The status was rather impressive – ninety feet high, nine feet wide, and made of gold. At the dedication ceremony, all the chief officials, rulers and civil servants were present.

The order came from the king that when the orchestra played – that whole big list of instruments – ‘the horn, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music’, then the people were to fall down and worship. If they decided not to worship, then they would be thrown into a blazing furnace (6).

Can you imagine a big crowd of people standing around the image? All waiting on the music? Think of some of the big gatherings of people we have seen recently - the Live Aid concerts, or …

And so, the music started, and the people fell down to worship. Right across the plain, people are prostrate… except for those three people still standing – so noticeable on the landscape. Who are the three? And what are they doing, still standing?

The three men are Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego – friends of Daniel, and fellow exiles. Already in the book of Daniel we have met them – in chapter one they also refused to eat the king’s meat which had been sacrificed to idols. And there they stand, in disobedience to the king’s command.

Straight away, some of the astrologers come up to the king to report what had happened. Ever since the Jews had come to Babylon, the astrologers weren’t keen on them – already, the astrologers had failed to interpret the dream of Nebuchadnezzar in chapter two, while the Jew Daniel had done it. Later, they would fail Nebuchadnezzar with another dream, and also Belshazzar’s writing on the wall. So when they had this chance to get the Jews thrown into the furnace, they would take it. In doing so, they would also prove their own loyalty.

But notice, in verse 12 that the astrologers say ‘there are some Jews… who pay not attention to you’ – does this mean that other Jews were going along with the flow and worshipping? Were they encouraging the three to also bow down?

It’s here that our reading began tonight – with Nebuchadnezzar in a furious rage. Who were these people to not be worshipping him and his gods? Did they not know that if they were in his culture, they should do as he did? So he has them brought before him, and gives them another chance. If they fall down and worship, well and good, But if not, then they will be thrown into a blazing furnace.

Notice the challenge he sets – ‘Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?’ To Nebuchadnezzar, his image was obviously the most powerful god, because he was ruling. It seems to be a power play – if I’m king of this vast empire, then my gods must be more powerful than all the other gods.

For Nebuchadnezzar and his loyal followers, the question was obviously meant to be rhetorical – needing no answer… the answer was obviously no. No other god could rescue them from his hand.

What would you do, if you were in that situation? Facing a hostile, angry king who threatens death – horrible death in a furnace – if you don’t bow down. After all, how hard would it be to lie down on the ground for a minute or two? He wouldn’t know what you were thinking. And it would mean you could continue to serve God in the king’s service.

What did Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego do? They answered the king: ‘we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O King. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.’

To Nebuchadnezzar’s challenge, they show their faith in God, believing God is able to rescue them and save them. The confrontation is set up. Nebuchadnezzar’s gods against God. But even more than that – the three go further. Even if our God doesn’t save us, we still won’t serve your gods.

This is no fair weather faith – which only lasts as long as things are going well. Here, in front of the king, the one who transported them so far from home and who wants to force them to worship other gods, they defy him, and declare their total trust in God. Even if God won’t save them miraculously – that’s his choice – they will still serve and worship only him.

You can see the blood vessels standing out on the head and neck of Nebuchadnezzar – he’s raging with these men. And so he acts out of his rage – the furnace is made seven times hotter, and the three will be thrown in.

To make sure they can’t escape, they are tied up – wearing all their clothes and blankets around them for good measure – to make sure there’s plenty of stuff to burn. The commentators seem to suggest that the furnace had one opening at the top, and another at the bottom. Into the top opening they are thrown, by the strongest, best soldiers in Babylon. Yet it is the soldiers who perish from the heat and the flames.

The three men find themselves in the furnace. Nebuchadnezzar watches to make sure they are burned up. And as he watches intently, suddenly he gets a fright. The three men had been tied up, thrown in as if in a sleeping bag, yet now he can see them walking about freely, unharmed, and not only three – but a fourth as well!

The fourth looked like ‘a son of the gods.’ Who could this be? The son of the gods – later, in verse 28, Nebuchadnezzar refers to him as an angel – the angel of the Lord. But some would see this as a pre-birth appearance of Christ, being present with his people in their trouble.

Nebuchadnezzar had set the challenge – what god will be able to rescue you from my hand? The three had answered that their God was able. Nebuchadnezzar now saw with his own eyes that this was so – their God had rescued them, but not only that, had been present with them in their trials.

As the king says himself, in paying tribute to God, ‘Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.’

So how does this apply for us today? Do you face pressures to conform to other people’s expectations – or to join with other people’s worship of celebrity or money or false idols? These idols which threaten to take the place of God.

How will you respond? Will you go with the flow, or will you go against it and stand your ground? We may not face the furnace – yet there are still consequences to our actions – maybe being isolated in work, or being thought of as eccentric…

In the midst of these trials, we find that God is with us – his angel was present with the three; his presence is with us. Maybe not saving us out of the trial immediately, but being with us in the trial.

And let’s pray that as we live for God, showing our faith by our actions, others will see, and give the praise to God, as Nebuchadnezzar also praised the Most High God.

What a night!

I'm sitting relaxing before heading out to Magheralin to preach (sermon online later or tomorrow, as usual). The prospects for tonight's drive to Dublin aren't looking too great - howling winds and heavy rain. Dear knows how long it will take tonight, as I don't want to be speeding in the rain.

And such a contrast to earlier. I was over in Dollingstown this morning, at the JAM service. Before you think it's all about spreads and preserves, it stands for 'Jesus and Me' - the all-age/family service focused on kids. James was speaking on Gideon, in connection with Matthew 19:26 - 'Jesus said "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."'

Afterwards, I went for a walk in Lurgan Park, around the lake. Boys oh, it was cold, but really nice... as the photo will hopefully show:

Peeking over the trees are the spire of Shankill Parish Church, and the roof of Lurgan Castle, also known as Brownlow House, which is the biggest Orange Hall in the world, and Headquarters of the Royal Black Institution.

Jeremiah's call

It's funny how these God-incidences can happen sometimes... maybe God has some purpose in me doing Jeremiah at present. In my evening devotions, I tend to read the passage myself, seeking to do the text exegesis and application, before reading the appropriate chapter of The Bible Speaks Today series. My morning devotions are guided by Explore, the Bible reading notes from The Good Book Company.

So about a week ago, I finished my previous studies in James using BST, so decided to go to the Old Testament. Why not study Jeremiah? One of the major prophets, been a while since I've read him, why not? So I started it in the evenings...

Only to discover a few days later that Explore is also going through Jeremiah, although at a slightly slower pace. Is God trying to say something to me through Jeremiah???

As I've written about before, Jeremiah 1:5 is a great verse - it was my text for the Downes Oratory Prize last year - which made me slightly better off, financially!

5"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,and before you were born I consecrated you;I appointed you a prophet to the nations."

Here we find the call of Jeremiah - but the hero of the episode is God! It is God who knew him before he formed him in the womb => even before he was a twinkle in his father's eye, God already knew him.

God knowing us might seem scary - if he even knows the secret, shameful things we do - but he knows us and loves us. Nothing that we can do can make him stop loving us.

God's foreknowledge of Jeremiah also led him to consecrate him. Jeremiah was set apart from before birth. He was appointed to the Lord's service. There was nothing else he could do. God had called and chosen him.

So does God only know Jeremiah? Or does he not also know you? What has God called and appointed you to do? You may not be the prophet to the nations, but you are still called to the Lord's service, to make his name known.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Christmas is coming...

Yes, Christmas is coming - just over 5 weeks to go!!!

The reason I know this for sure, is that I have three weeks left of term down in Trinity and CITC, and then two weeks off before Christmas... oh, and two weeks after Christmas as well!

But the other reason we know Christmas is coming is because the shops have been full of Santa's and Christmas tress and even annoying music for weeks and weeks... Why does it seem to start earlier every year?

With all the focus on spending money and materialism, when will we actually see Christmas being remembered for what it's all about? How many people, in the rush and bustle of shopping remember the CHRIST of CHRISTmas?

How can we remind people of the true meaning?

Proc Trust NIMA

Still on the retrospective postings, having now made it as far as last Monday and Tuesday! Having flown back from Scotland at 7am - which necessitated leaving Dundee at 4.30am, it was off to Dollingstown for the Proclamation Trust Northern Ireland Ministry Assembly.

This was the first event of its kind in Northern Ireland, but hopefully it will become an annual event, due to its success. All in all, about 200 ministers, pastors and preachers came together in St Saviour's Church to discuss and learn about preaching from two masters - Kent Hughes and David Jackman.

Hughes, I didn't know before then, but Jackman I had known from two summers in London at the student conferences. David Jackman presented a series of 'sharpening your skills' sessions, looking at the preparation of sermons, concentrating on what the text is saying, and how to communicate its message today. Kent Hughes dealt with the Bible itself, then with the heart of the preacher, as well as providing some reflections on his own ministry - tomorrow is his last Sunday after 27 years as pastor of his church in Chicago.

As well as the teaching from the front, the Assembly allowed plenty of time for networking, both renewing friendships and making new ones; and also to enjoy the great food on offer from the parishioners of Magheralin and Dollingstown!

Let's hope the event hapens again next year...

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Crazy Game

We're still updating last weekend in Scotland! Saturday morning was spent on the birthday girl's event of choice. So off we went to Drumoig Driving Range to have a go at golfing! Lyns had been to a driving range before, but the rest of us (Jem, Stu and me) were all first-timers. Abd we found it rather cheap too - £4.50 for 100 balls!

How hard could it be - the balls were waiting. We just had to whack them.

Due to the sunlight behind us, the photos might be a tad dark, but here we go... myself:

The girls:
And Stu:
All in all, the driving range was so much fun that we went back for more balls. All in all, we got to about 125 feet - the golfers among you will probably think that pitiful, but to us it seemed good!
Afterwards, we enjoyed having lunch in St Andrew's, which is a nice wee town.
The results the next day were sore sides (and a sore leg for me), all in the same place - obviously our swinging wasn't entirely proper. But the image of the day shows the results of the balls:


Last weekend, as you may have gathered by now, I was over in Scotland, visiting my lovely fiancee Lynsey. Due to the odd times for my flights over and back, I had to hire a car. This meant that we were able to head off for wee drives. After Lyns finished for the day on Friday, we headed off for Dunkeld.

After a short diversion to see the village of Stanley, we made it to Dunkeld, a wee town (or rather, a cathedral city) up in the mountains. David Chillingworth, former Rector of Seagoe and Archdeacon of Dromore is the bishop of Dunkeld (among other places), so I went off to see if I could find his Cathedral.
There was indeed a Cathedral, part of which is in ruins, part of which is still a functioning parish church, but it seems to be (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland, rather than the Episcopal Church. But no matter what it is, it still proved to be a nice place to visit - witnessing to the longevity of the faith in that place.The one above is that of the current parish church facing the town, and below are the ruins of the old cathedral.

Stanley for Standeley!

Ok, so here goes for a series of updates from last weekend in Scotland. The first is in honour of Stanley (Standeley) Gamble. Hope you enjoy it Standeley...!!!

On our way to Dunkeld, we saw a signpost for 'Stanley' 2 miles, so we had to go and see it!!! And so, here are the highlights of Stanley, near Perth:
First, the local Stanley Masonic Lodge:
Then we have the Stanley Newsagents:
Sadly my photo of the Stanley Butchers won't load to Blogger, so here's the grand finale - the place you should seek to be minister of some day - Stanley Church!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

My Chemical Romance's Black Parade

A little bit of contemporary culture... My Chemcial Romance's latest chart hit is called 'The Black Parade.' The opening part of the song goes like this:
When I was a young boy,
My father took me into the city
To see a marching band.
He said, "Son when you grow up,
would you be the savior of the broken,
the beaten and the damned?"
He said "Will you defeat them,
your demons, and all the non-believers,
the plans that they have made?"
"Because one day I'll leave you,
A phantom to lead you in the summer,
To join The Black Parade."

So the first few times I heard it, I thought they were talking about the Black Parades in Northern Ireland - swords, marching bands, the summer... Seemingly not... An interesting overlap of cultures though, for both to be thinking of Black Parades!

Updating the updates

Well hello again... after another absence of almost a week, a few more updates will be scheduled over the next couple of days. The poor service of the wireless network at college (ie no signal in my room...) means that I can't blog spontaeneously. Rage!!!

And quite a bit I could have been talking about - the Proc Trust Conference; having my ma in Dublin; last weekend in Scotland; and all else...

So look out for these topics being covered over the next few days... And let's hope my wireless gets working properly soon!!!

Monday, November 13, 2006


I am officially wrecked!

This is going to be a very short posting just to say that I got back from Scotland this morning, having got up at an awfully early hour, then spent the day at the Proc Trust Northern Ireland Ministry Assembly, before speaking at the Lisnasure Prayer Union in Magheralin... busy busy day, after a great weekend! A wee bit more thought and reports of the weekend will follow in due course - maybe tomorrow evening, but for now, it's off to bed.

Good night!