Thursday, September 28, 2006

Week One and the Speed Cameras

So there we are, week one at college has been completed! Today was the Child Protection section of preparation for placement, so it's just a matter of getting out into the parish now and doing what the Rector has in store for me over the next three months.

It was nice being able to come up the road on a Thursday - which will be happening every week this term, as Friday is our placement day. The weather was quite pleasant today too on the road north... Although I notice now that the journey up and down the A1 has been made slightly longer by the installation of 'average speed cameras' on either side of Newry - both towards Loughbrickland and the border. You really can't miss them, being yellow and arching over the road... so will anyone actually try to beat the system?

Makes you think though - are there actually cameras in the camera holders? Is it a computer analyses the data, or PSNI officers monitoring the cameras? How many people will be caught?

Baby Got Book: the video

After a recommendation from another student, check out the below video... rather funny!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

College Part Two

Just a quick update, to keep my readers (especially those on the inside) happy. Today we were looking at Children's Ministry, in relation to the forthcoming parish placements. The first part was theory, and sharing experiences of good and bad practice, and our childhood memories.

The second part was pure class - we were given an outline of a children's talk, and a prop or props, and we were let loose. The kids were the rest of the class (plus the tutor), and it was like performing in front of a firing squad! Suddenly real kids would be a breeze, the amount of abuse, jokes and banter we gave the person on the spot. Fun times!

This afternoon we were looking at the skills needed for ministry, and reminded that the central task of the minister is the Ministry of the Word - that we need to be studying the Bible in order to faithfully preach and teach the Bible to the congregation. Hallelujah!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The beginning of College

Well hello, one and all, whoever happens to read these few comments and thoughts from my brain! This is the first opportunity I've had to get onto the computer since coming down on Sunday night, due to the busy-ness of meeting the new people and finding out a bit about them, as well as doing all the required stuff and starting into the pre-term courses.

The other reason it's been a while is that the wireless network in the accommodation block isn't just ready yet - there is a signal, but something else has gone wrong... hopefully it will come soon and we'll be able to have internet access in the rooms...

It was nice to see everyone back again, and catch up on what we've been up to over the summer, as well as welcoming the new people - there are more students who have started this year than returning students - 17 to 13... which is interesting, cos the accepted standard responses in chapel (for example) have been ignored cos most of them don't know the protocol of when we join in the Psalm... And we also had the 'repeat first line of prayers' which never happened before - which is common enough in parish life, but seemed to be anathema in chapel.

The new guys are great - I knew some of them before, and have found links with some of the others - people known in common - so we're building up good friendships. And last night we had the first Late Praise of the new year - the late night service which is more contemporary and 'open' with no liturgy as such, just Bible readings, contemporary songs and open prayer time. The new students are so afire for God, and so enthusiastic - it did my heart glad last night!

This week we're working on the preparation for parish placement - yesterday we looked at the theory and practicalities of hospital visiting, and today we're looking at theological reflection and the theory of knowledge. I'm really looking forward to my placement, and being able to do some of the visiting work, as well as the preaching and leading of services.

So what else has been happening? On Sunday night some of us went to CORE - it was quite interesting to see how they have transformed an old parish church into a modern 'worship centre' with no pews etc...

This weekend should be pleasant - Friday I'm off, Saturday I'm for Scotland for the day on the boat, and then on Sunday I'm taking a harvest service out at Quilly, so I'm preparing my sermon in and between times - if you're free and available, come along. It's at 3pm.

Right... coffee time should be over soon. I'd better go back to class! More updates and reflections and the usual mix of random thoughts will be posted in due time, when I have opportunity to get to the common room, or when the wireless broadband is properly working!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Silence and Service. Mark 9:30-37. A sermon preached in Magheralin on 24th September 2006.

Have you ever had those times where you are speechless? Someone says something to you, and you just can’t respond – maybe because you’re so confused that you don’t want to let on? That can happen sometimes in our class in college – as the lecturer talks we all nod and seem to understand, but once we’re out of the class, we’re all confused, and no amount of talking to the rest of the class can get us out of it. So then the next time we see the lecturer, we have to ask them again to explain it.

Maybe other times, people can be speechless because of shame. Think about your kids – you tell them something, and you hear them say something back, but you can’t quite make it out. But they won’t say what it was… they’re slightly ashamed of it. Of course, you wouldn’t know about that, because the kids here obviously don’t talk back to their parents.

Those times of silence, where the people are confused or ashamed. In our reading this morning, we can see two times of silence, when the disciples fit into our two categories – first, the silence of confusion, and the second the silence of embarrassment.

As we come to Mark chapter 9, we find that Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. In Mark 8, Peter recognised Jesus as the Messiah, but his hopes were suddenly dashed, because his ideas of a Messiah didn’t match up with what Jesus came to do. In 8:31, we read ‘He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.’ Yet straight away, Peter rebukes him for talking that way.

And here in chapter 9, we find that Jesus is again teaching the disciples about his purpose. This time, he tells them ‘The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.’

For us, reading that now, it’s obvious what Jesus meant – because we live in the aftermath of the cross and resurrection. But put yourself in the place of the disciples – so far you have been travelling around with Jesus, seeing him heal people, and do miracles, and teaching the crowds. All seems to be going well, and more people are following him.

And then he starts talking about being betrayed? And then getting killed? And what was that about rising again? What was Jesus talking about?

Notice the disciples’ response – ‘But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.’ The disciples, who had been with Jesus for over two years were still afraid to ask him about what he was saying – they were afraid to look stupid, or to be seen to be confused.

How often is that our experience? Are there times that you don’t understand what’s going on? Maybe something that Gareth says, or I say? Don’t be afraid to ask about it, so that we can come to understand more about Jesus.

Yet the disciples’ confusion wasn’t the end of the affair. Look at what it led them to. The passage continues to describe what happens when they arrived at Capernaum. Jesus asks them ‘What were you arguing about on the road?’

And there’s the second silence from the disciples. ‘But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.’ Silence from the disciples, because they were ashamed of what they had been discussing.

Can you see what was happening? Jesus was telling them in advance of his death, and all the disciples could do was engage in a ‘disciple of the year’ contest. Comparing stories, and arguing about who was the greatest.

Once again, the disciples have misunderstood Jesus. So Jesus seeks to correct them, and teaches them about the secret of being a great disciple. And in doing so, Jesus turns things on their head, and teaches the opposite of what is natural, or seems right.

‘If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.’

Notice that it’s all right to aspire to greatness – if you want to be first; but you don’t go about it the way the world would think. Rather, to be great, you put yourself at the very last, becoming the servant of all. True greatness is the greatness of putting everyone before oneself, and in being outstanding in the role of servant.

As the world thinks about it, being a servant means you’re at the bottom of the pile, as you work for others, and obey their orders. But in order to be a great disciple, you have to be a servant. And isn’t that right, after all, because in the next chapter Jesus will tell the disciples that ‘even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ (Mark 10:45)

Jesus, who ‘being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross.’ (Philippians 2:6-8) – this is the Jesus we follow, who calls us to also be humble, and to become a servant.

Imagine if Jesus had insisted on his rights? Imagine if he had refused to obey the Father, and refused to become a servant for our sake? We would still be dead in our sins. But Jesus did become a servant, and died for us.

And then, to give them a practical lesson, Jesus ‘took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”’

In those days, children had no rights, and were at best ‘seen and not heard.’ Probably in many ways like the servants in the household. Yet Jesus turns it around again, and encourages his disciples to welcome the children, to notice them, and to reach out to them in his name.

Why’s that? Well, because as they welcomed the child, who was one of the least, then they welcomed Jesus himself. But even more than that, as they welcomed Jesus in the child, so they welcomed the one who sent Jesus – they welcomed God. In this way, the one who was seen as not very important in the household or family life, was recognised as one who was an ambassador of God.

[One way of seeing these elements of service and reaching out to children is through the Paraguay team – as they went on our behalf and with our support to do the kids work there. But that isn’t the only way we can apply the teaching today – otherwise it could only apply to those who were able to travel. What does it mean for us, today, in Dollingstown?]

As we live in the light of the cross, and can see what Jesus meant so much clearer than the disciples, we can see the fullness of Jesus’ servanthood. We stand in the blessings of Jesus becoming a servant, and dying for us, as we trust in him. But does it make it any easier to put his teaching into practice? What does it mean for us to be last, and the servant of all?

[Ephesians – ‘submit to one another out of reverence for Christ’ (Ephesians 5:21)]

As you follow Jesus the Master, who are the people you need to put before yourself? How can you look out for the interests of others? How can you show your welcome for God and Jesus in the way you treat those around you, especially those who have a low place in society’s estimations?

Jesus, the Master, was also Jesus the servant, the slave, who gave his life as an offering for us. Today he shows us the path to greatness as his disciple. Will you accept the challenge to be great? ‘If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.’

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Dublin here I come!

And there we are, the summer has indeed completely passed. In less than twenty-four hours, I will (DV) be in Dublin for the start of second year. I'm just trying to get packed up here before heading out for dinner, so it will be easy enough tomorrow after church to head down the road.

The big bonus of this weekend, though, was that Lynsey was able to hop across from Ayr, and then next weekend I'm hopping over that direction! Good job the storms had died down by Friday evening!

But back to the packing... and the job of trying to remember where I left the stuff I had in my room last year - is it in my new room, or is it in Dromore somewhere??? Should be fun finding it all, and then packing it into the car as well as Alan's stuff too.

So while the new year starts tomorrow for returning students, the new students are already resident in college, for the opening and welcome weekend. Can't wait til tomorrow to see them all and meet the new people!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

New Prayer Letter!

Why is it that when you're trying to get things done, then the computer wants to play up?Last night, late on, I was trying to get the prayer letter typed, so that the posted copies could be in the post, and then it could be emailed to some people, and blogged etc... But oh no... technology didn't want to help last night at all. When I printed the test run of the labels, it lined up perfectly to the sticky label settings... but once I put the actual labels in, then they were off, and the first line wasn't on the label at all. So the envelopes had to be written by hand. Then the actual text was lost, and I had to type it up again... Just a bit annoying.

Anyways, the prayer letters have now been done - if you receive one normally by post, then it will be with you tomorrow, if you receive one by email, it should be in your inbox, and if you want to be added to either list, then let me know! Here below is the actual prayer letter:

Greetings from Dromore! We’re now into the last week before college begins again, so I thought it was time to send out my next prayer letter. First off, can I thank you for your prayer support over the past year, and ask that you continue to remember me in your prayers in second year?

Thankfully, I managed to pass my exams last year, so they’re going to let me back in! The summer was a time of relaxing, as well as containing some learning and gaining experience – I managed to attend the Proclamation Trust Preaching Summer School in London, which was a great help; as well as spending time in France with friends, and at BB Camp in Kent, acting as Chaplain. The other big news of the summer was that I got engaged to Lynsey!

But the summer is now over, and I return to Dublin on Sunday afternoon. There will of course be new challenges this term, as we move on to new courses, such as Christology, Soteriology and Hermeneutics [and no, I haven’t a clue what they are either!]. Our Pastoral course will contain more work this year, including a Friday-and-Sunday parish placement, which at present looks like it will be in Magheralin with Gareth Harron.

Since the summer, we have lost some friends from college, as they have been ordained. But a whole group of friends – both old and new are just waiting to start at college for the first time or return again for another year.

Some current prayer points are:
- For the students at CITC, both the new students, and the returning ones
- For the newly ordained deacons, especially Adrian in Newtownards and Craig in Lurgan
- For Gareth, Ruth and Annabelle in Magheralin, as well as the people of the parish as I work with them
- For Stephen and Trevor, as they lead the congregation in Dromore
- For Lynsey and me as we prepare for marriage (in a couple of years time)
- For me, that I would be a good witness for Christ in Trinity classes with ‘normal’ students, and in all that I do in Dublin
- That I would continue to grow in my faith through second year

Once again, thank you for your prayers and support. Be assured that I am praying for you, as you pray for me. Together, we can make an impact for the gospel of Christ in Dublin, and across this island.

God bless.

'For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it, the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”’ (Romans 1:16-17)

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

How to destroy a denomination in 10 easy steps

This comes from Mark Driscoll's blog, and was also commented on by the Irish Calvinist blog.

So the ten steps to destroy a denomination, in his opinion, are:

1. Have a low view of Scripture and, consequently, the deity of Jesus.

2. Deny that we were made male and female by God, equal but with distinct roles in the home and church.

3. Ordain liberal women in the name of tolerance and diversity.

4. Have those liberal women help to ordain gay men in the name of greater tolerance and diversity.

5. Accept the worship of other religions and their gods in the name of still greater tolerance and diversity.

6. Become so tolerant that you, in effect, become intolerant of people who love Jesus and read their Bible without scoffing and snickering.

7. End up with only a handful of people who are all the same kind of intolerant liberals in the name of tolerance and diversity.

8. Watch the Holy Spirit depart from your churches and take people who love Jesus with Him.

9. Fail to repent but become more committed than ever to your sinful agenda.

10. See Jesus pull rank, judge you, and send some of your pastors to hell to be tormented by Him forever because He will no longer tolerate your diversity.

So how far have our mainline denominations gone?

Volunteers or Conscripts?

In a roundabout route, as so often happens, I came across the blog of an Irish Calvinist in the US. Actually, the route was the Irish Reformation Blog, which reported that the author of the Irish Calvinist blog was giving out free books on Baptism. But then another article caught my eye.

He argues that God doesn't call for volunteers, but rather God gifts the people he wants. Read what he says from this link, and discuss!

North Antrim Coast photos online now!

The photos of my recent dawn adventure (and subsequent day) on the north Antrim coast are now available online, over at my photo site. Below, as always, is a sample photo:

Monday, September 18, 2006

Scotland Photos now online!

Photographs from my recent visit to Scotland are now available online. Highlights include Edinburgh, Broughty Ferry and Dundee. A special photo is the statue of Desperate Dan in the centre of Dundee!

Enniskillen Photos online

Some photographs from my recent visit to Enniskillen and the Castle are now available online. Sample picture below:

Sunday, September 17, 2006

A Left Behind Blog

Yeah, so I realise that I have been blogging quite frequently about the rapture recently, and connected to that, the Left Behind series. Maybe it's a sign... Or maybe I'm a false prophet. Answers on the back of a postcard, or in a comment!

Anyways... I have just discovered a blog on the Left Behind series, which is rather interesting. The guy writing is slowly working through the books, quoting and then criticising - the writing style, the accuracy of facts, the plot line, you name it... So to have an interesting read on the Left Behind series, check out Slacktivist's Left Behind index.

I notice, though, that it hasn't been updated in almost two months... but I'm sure more will follow soon!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The North Antrim Coast by dawn

This weekend, the parentals are in Scotland, and I had to take them to the boat yesterday morning. Which involved getting up at 5am (and that the morning after getting back from Scotland - and the really rough flight). So the early, early start was very early! And it was still dark at 6.30am when I left them off in Larne.

So I headed off up the coast road, and as I journeyed up the coast, the sun rose. Stopping as many times as possible at the various holes in the hedge, I managed to get a few photos of the coast and the rising sun. Absolutely lovely! Some of them will follow, in due course, when I manage to get the photos downloaded from the camera.

I also made it to the mouth of the Bann, walking along Portstewart Strand, and later to Mussenden Temple and the former Bishop's Palace. Suddenly, my neglect of the north coast is being redressed with lots of visits!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The time is short

After a glorious week, my time is now short in Scotland... tomorrow is my last full day, and then it's off home again on Thursday.

And then it's just one week (or so) until we head off down the (Irish) M1 again to start college - this time as a second year! How the time has flown since last year, with all its excitements and nerves, its joys and sorrows.

But God is faithful throughout, as He always has been, and will continue to be.

So here's to a new year of college!

Monday, September 11, 2006

Louise, will you marry Bryan?

Yes, the engagement season continues in full flow, as Bryan and Louise got engaged today in Edinburgh! Congratulations to the both of them - as I'll (DV) have Bryan as a brother-in-law!

9-11 five years on

So there we are... five years on from one of the 'big' terrorist shocks of recent times - although coming from Northern Ireland, terrorism is terrorism, and things seem to soon move on, as we're grabbed by the next big atrocity.

I can well remember the day. The sun was shining, I was standing in work, on the last day of my summer job in an industrial estate in Lisburn, in the last summer before I graduated from university, so this was my last summer job (well, until I became a student once again...) We were probably talking about football, or the sun, or moaning about the poor pay, as we worked on the production line, with the radio on - normally Radio 1 or Cool in the morning, but after lunchtime, it was switched to Radio Ulster so the older supervisor could hear the songs from her youth, as Hugo Duncan broadcast them...

When suddenly, Hugo wasn't on any more. Reports were coming in that a plane had crashed into a building in New York. One of the guys went buck daft, cos he recognised what the building was from films... And as he was trying to explain what it looked like, and how we should all know it from whatever film, suddenly, reports came in of another plane hitting the other tower... What on earth was happening?

And then home (eventually) from work forever, and seeing the tv footage, the carnage, the damaged lives. Dear oh. Shocking altogether.

And what has changed? Has there been anything good come out of the bad? After all, the terrorist attack on America provoked the war on terror by Bush and Blair... in which they hunt ghosts and claim it in the name of security. Yet I think we have seen some good come from it - without being rude, suddenly America saw what terrorism was all about - those who had funded and supported 'the struggle for freedom' in Ireland were seeing firsthand what it is really like for terrorism to be operating... to have the loss of life, the devastation, the economic problems, the emotional damage. And connected to this, but also more far-reaching, suddenly terrorism wasn't seen as an acceptable weapon for use by the IRA. On the world stage, terrorists are now listened to less, and not quite as acceptable as before.

I do believe it is for these reasons (as well as political expediency, don't get me wrong here...) that we haven't seen the IRA killing as many people recently, and certainly not trying the big disasters... because it isn't fashionable and doesn't fit on the world stage. But what happens if they decide they are going to kick off again? After all, are the dissidents really dissident, or is it a way of the top boys keeping them happy during the 'ceasefire'? Even recently we have seen what damage a couple of fellas can do with incendiary devices - ruining was it 5 businesses in Newry. How long before it spreads?

Hurray for the Arch!

Ok, so news travels slow, but it seems that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, deserves some credit for his interview with a Dutch journalist back in August. According to the report in the Telegraph, which Rob passed on to us today, he has come out to say that homosexuals must change their behaviour if they are to be welcomed into the church.

[Which also provides an interesting aside for my current research, into the difference, in his words, between 'welcome' and 'inclusion']

But isn't it good to have some straight talking (no pun intended) by the senior leadership of the church, in upholding the Biblical basis and ethics of the church? Let's hope more follow in his stead.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Lord's Day in Dundee

And so we come to the end of the Lord's Day in Dundee, and a very pleasant day. We made it to services in Logie's and St John's Parish Church, where Lyns is starting to go, and I have to say, they were really good. Logie's, as it seems to be known, isn't far from the flat, and the welcome is very good too. The music - organ and band in the morning, and piano and band in the evening was very good, and I even knew most of the hymns (or at least the tunes).

But the best bit for me was the teaching. Absolutely brilliant! This morning the Outreach Coordinator, Mark Ellis was preaching on Judges 4 (and 5), on God the warrior, fighting for his people, yet using his people in the battle. And the sermon was rather good... Surely it couldn't be topped? Yet tonight, the Minister, David Scott, was preaching on Abraham, from Genesis 24, and Hebrews 11 - finishing off a series on the life of Abraham. I think it would have been of more benefit to have heard it at the end of the series, but even as a stand-alone talk, it was still great, as it looked at the four characteristics of faith found in Abraham. I won't try to re-create it here, as I don't think I would be able to properly represent it, but the good news is that Logie's have a sermon audio element to their website, so you can download and enjoy.

This afternoon we enjoyed a picnic lunch on one of the greens in Dundee, relaxing in the sunshine - wouldn't it be great if every day was like this?

Saturday, September 09, 2006


So straight after the Northern Ireland v Spain game, after I got the video fo the Healy goal online, and blogged about the game, and packed, it was off to bed for a couple of hours. Then I was up early, very early, and off to Aldergrove for my flight to Scotland... the week-long visit had arrived!

The flight over was quite good - really clear, so I could see RAF Aldergrove, Randalstown, Ballymena, and Larne as we flew towards the Irish Sea, and then we circled over Edinburgh, leading to great views of the city centre. And it was to the city centre I journeyed after retrieving my luggage.

When there, I went for a big long walk, seeing some of the sights, and taking in the bookshops along the way - down the Royal Mile to Holyrood Palace, then up the other side calling in at the Tron Church, and St Gile's - oh, and an Anglo-Catholic Episcopalian church down a wee side street - then up to the Castle, where the workmen were dismantling the stands from the Tattoo.

Back down the Royal Mile a wee bit, and towards Greyfriars, where the Covenant was signed, and into the church (ironically, they tried to claim the pulpit was where it originally stood - off to one side, in the present Anglican fashion), then off up the best street for books in all of Edinburgh! Then circled round the back of the Castle on the streets below, and round onto Princes Street. After that, it was up the Scott monument, which was rather high... as high as the Castle, actually, with 283 steps to climb, and the top passageway being as wide as my shoulders... I got some photos, and they will hopefully follow in due course.

Then it was back to the train station to collect my rucksack again - thankfully they had a left luggage facility, or I wouldn't have gone as far as I did! And up on the train to Dundee, and the joy of seeing Lynsey again!

Yesterday I had a wander in the city centre, visiting my usual bookshops, before we went to see 'Joseph and his amazing technicoloured dreamcoat' in the Caird Hall. More on this at another time, when I think about it...

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Oh What a Night (2006 remix)

On the eve of the first anniversary of Northern Ireland's giant-killing mission against England, they have struck again, this time Spain their victims. After the disaster of Saturday's crushing defeat to Iceland, expectations were low as the crowd gathered at Windsor Park in Belfast tonight. My own prediction was 6-0 to Spain, but thankfully it wasn't to be, as Northern Ireland, in the underdog position they seem to prefer, came back twice to equalise and then took the lead, through a marvellous David Healy hat-trick.

The first half opened brightly for Northern Ireland, with good attacking runs, and the crowd (who had booed and hissed at them on Saturday) fully behind them - as we had been presented with the Best Fans award before the game. The Green and White Army were on the move. Yet, against the play, Spain got a first goal, with a move down their left, and the unmarked played scoring past Maik Taylor, who had come on as a substitute for an early injured Roy Carroll.

But the players didn't let their heads drop, and continued to put pressure on Spain, Healy getting the equaliser six minutes later. The sides were even until the break. Half time came. 1-1 - we could be happy with that.

And then the unbelieveable happened. Spain went ahead again. Was the good first half going to be wiped away and forgotten? Thankfully not, as a cheeky free kick set piece by Sammy Clinghan enabled Healy to score the equaliser. As it happened right in front of us, here's the goal captured on video:

What would happen now? Despite intense Spanish pressure, Taylor's clearance bounced twice, Healy latched on to it, and lobbed it over the keeper. 3-2 to Northern Ireland! Oh what a night! Spain continued to pile on the pressure, leading to boos and whistles - but this time aimed at the referee to blow it up, rather than at the Northern Ireland team.

And so, just as we last year beat England 1-0, this year, we manage to beat Spain, the best team in the group, 3-2.

We're not Brazil, We're Northern Ireland! Glory, Glory, Northern Ireland! It's just like watching Brazil. Stand up for the Ulstermen! Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland, we'll support you ever more!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Spot the difference!

So as you know, my beard can grow lots... to the dislike of some friends and acquaintances... For the past three weeks it has grown freely, as you can see:
But with my next visit to Scotland coming very soon, drastic action was needed. Hence:
Much less beard! Oh, and you can get a glimpse into my room - which no one has seen into for a considerable period of time...

Monday, September 04, 2006

Blast from the past 3 * Psalm 121 sermon from July 2003

A while back, I posted a couple of my earlier sermons. Tonight I was clearing out some stuff and came across a paper copy of an old sermon, so thought I would type it up and post it. This was originally preached at the Summer Praise service in Dromore Cathedral on 13th July 2003, as the theme that summer was favourite Psalms.

- - - - - - - - - -

Picture the scene. A huge crowd, of several thousand people, all with a common purpose – to worship God. Having come from all over the country, and perhaps even the world, they join together, to sing and praise God in loud sons and shouts. There is a carnival, party atmosphere, with the crowd spurring each other on to further, and closer worship.

It could be a description of Summer Madness, where three thousand people joined together last week at the Kings Hall in Belfast. In fact, it is the context for the Psalm we are looking at tonight. Psalm 120 to 134 are called the ‘songs of ascents.’ These psalms were sing as the pilgrims travelled towards Jerusalem for one of the major festivals.

You can just imagine the crowd getting louder, as they come nearer to Jerusalem, and the temple, sitting high on the hill ahead of them. Their goal is getting closer. They are nearly at their journey’s end. And the hills around Jerusalem inspire them.

I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from?

The Psalmist is looking up, to see the strength of the hills, and asks where his help comes from. And that challenges us. Where does your help, or my help come from? Where do we look for assistance? Is it nature, or horoscopes, other people, or created things? Yet the Psalmist gives us the answer.

My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Our help – our support, guidance, sustenance, succour – can only come from the LORD. He made all things. He controls all things. He watches all things.

God’s help and care is total. It extends to all of our life. He won’t let our foot slip, physically or spiritually, along the rocky path of life.

The Psalm began with the Psalmist looking up, and continues by focusing on God’s watching over us. God sees everything that we do, and think, and say. And while this may be slightly disconcerting – that God knows all that we do, even the secret things and thoughts – it is also reassuring, that God cares about us so much. David says in Psalm 139 ‘you are familiar with all my ways… How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!’

Why does He watch over us? Its not that He is a ‘cosmic killjoy.’ Wanting to catch us out when we sin, or to clamp down on us having fun; but because He is so crazy about us, He loves us so much. He must love us – because when He created Adam and Eve, ‘God saw all that he had made, and it was very good’ (Genesis 1:31).

Earlier today, I was up at Knockagh War Memorial, above Carrickfergus, and the view from there is excellent. I could look down on the people below, around Greenisland, so in a sense, I was watching over people. But there was no intimacy, or relationship between me and the people I was watching. I didn’t know who the people were. Yet God doesn’t only watch us, like strangers on the TV programme Big Brother, but he watches us because he knows us, loves us, and cares about us so much.

God doesn’t sleep. He doesn’t become weary or tired, the way we do. This reminds me of when Elijah confronted the 850 prophets of Baal and Asherah on Mount Carmel, to see who was the real God. Baal’s prophets cried to him, to answer with fire; and after several hours, Elijah started getting sarcastic. ‘Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened’ (1 Kings 18:27). But God, the only true God, does not sleep. Whatever time of the day or night we pray or cry out to Him, He hears, and answers. So if you’re having sleep problems, God is always there, to listen to you, and is watching over you.

The final verse, the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and for evermore’ tells us that God isn’t just in this for the short term. He isn’t like some people, interested in us for about five minutes, then uninterested. His care, and protection, and watching is forever. He can be depended on for all time, and forever.

To sum up, the whole Psalm is affirmative. It is full of promises to hold, and trust, and believe in. It doesn’t say ‘God might’, or ‘God should’, but ‘God will’. God:

- will not let your foot slip
- will watch over you
- will not slumber
- is your shade at your right hand
- will keep you from all harm
- will watch over your coming and going forever

Rapture Ready?

A while back, I wrote a brief review of Crawford Gribben's book 'Rapture Fiction' - but there was a website mentioned in it that Stewart and me thought was funny, as we talked about it on the bus (sorry, coach - as Trevor the driver kept reminding us!). The website is called Rapture Ready, and the interesting feature is the Rapture Index - one guy's observations of the political and worldwide climate, converted into an index of how likely the rapture is.

The news is that today's index is showing 156 - not the highest it has been this year, but still in the high category! Come, Lord Jesus!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Bands, and more bands

As someone recently pointed out, I do seem to like bands, and so part of the weekend report will include bands. Actually, this posting will be all about bands. Last night I was down in Annalong to see the parade and competition organised by Annalong Single Star. In my defence, when I set out, it was a nice evening, sunny and warm, but once across the Mournes, the rain came on... The highlight of the evening were South Down DUP, and the Mourne Young Defenders - getting at least 3 videos of each of them. Indeed, one of them should appear here:

This afternoon, then, we went to Scarva, to see Waringsford Pipe Band playing in concert on the green. There was a good crowd turned out to see them, and the band were playing well. I'm in the process of uploading the clips, but when the best one is up on Youtube then I'll copy it into this posting! Here is the band gathering, just before they started:

Saturday, September 02, 2006

We're not Brazil... are we even Northern Ireland?

What a shocking start to the Euro Qualifiers... 3-0 down in the first half to lowly Iceland, due to a mixture of bad tactics, bad defending, and the distinct absence of the midfield. And what were the substitutions all about? The players who should have been coming off were left on, and Stuart Elliot was taken off. All round a bad day... Although my new camera seems to have a good zoom, so I might be able to include a few photos later when I get to see what they're like!

Green and White Army!

And so begins the European Championship Qualifiers this afternoon at Windsor Park. Northern Ireland take on Iceland, and I'm going to be there! Let's hope we can do the stuff today, and keep the form that helped us to beat Finland the other week. Some photos etc and of course the result will follow later... although if we score, then you might well hear the Green and White Army cheering!

Friday, September 01, 2006

Philippians 1:1-11

I've started posting some Bible studies for a forum site, but seeing as I'm writing them, I'm going to start posting them here too, in the blog, so they're with all my other writings! This is the first one from last week.

Philippians 1
1Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers[a] and deacons: 2Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.Thanksgiving and Prayer 3I thank my God every time I remember you. 4In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. 7It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God's grace with me. 8God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. 9And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, 11filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

---On starting this Bible study, the first thing to be noting is that the genre or type of text is a letter - a communication from Paul and Timothy (v1) to the church in Philippi. Or to be more specific, 'to all the saints in Christ Jesus in Philippi'. So who are these people, and where are they?

Who? 'the saints' - Nowadays when we think of saints we think of St Paul's Cathedral, or St Somebody's parish church, or things or days named after dead people. But the letter was obviously written to living people (at the time!). The 'saints' are 'the holy ones' - 'saints' is another way of saying the Christians, or the saved ones.

Where? Notice the saints are 'in' two places at once. 'in Christ Jesus in Philippi.' One relates their physical location, where they live in Philippi, but above and before that, they are 'in Christ Jesus' - their spiritual location is first. 'In Christ' is a big theme for Paul - check out the 88 times it appears in his letters. So really, they can't be 'saints' unless they are 'in Christ Jesus'.

The next phrase raises questions though - the letter is also addressed to 'the overseers and deacons'. Now that's not to say that these holders of church office aren't also saints... let's hope they were! But it goes to highlight that everyone in the congregation who is a Christian is a saint - not just the super-holy-Joes up in lights or stained glass.

As in many of his letters, Paul opens with 'grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus' - there is no greater thing Paul can wish or communicate to the church than the grace and peace which comes from God. This grace is God's favour, in giving us things we don't deserve! The peace we have is preace with God, through Jesus' sacrifice on the cross.

Paul then moves into the body of the letter, starting with thanks and prayers for the particular church he is writing to. Here, we can see that Paul is glad to know the Philippians, as he speaks of joy, and having them in his heart.

Why is this?
- they shared in God's grace with him (7), as they responded to the message of grace, from the time that Paul was imprisoned in Philippi and the jailer and his family were saved. (Acts 16)
- they shared in the partnership in the gospel. Later we'll see that this was in terms of supporting his needs and sending him Epaphroditus (4:18).
- they shared the confidence that God wasn't finished with them - that the good work God had started in them, he would continue (6).

Paul also prays for them:
- that their love would abound (or grow) more and more in knowledge and depth of insight... - this wasn't just so that their knowledge would grow, so that their heads were full of God, but their hearts and lives weren't affected but in order that...
-you may be able to discern what is best and be pure and blameless until the day of Christ - their knowledge is to lead to them having changed lives, discerning what is best to be doing, and then doing it. Being pure and blameless was not, of course, them being pure and blameless by themselves, but only based in Christ's righteousness. In all this, also, there is a day in view - 'the day of Christ' - which is his return as King and Judge. Do we live in view of the day of Christ?

- Another consequence is that they will be 'filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ'. This fruitfulness is dependent on all that goes before - the growing love, the growing wisdom, the discerning what is best and living that way, and being fruitful in Christ's righteousness.

- And notice the final aim of Paul's prayer 'to the glory and praise of God.' At the end of the day, this is what Paul is committed to, as we will see. His recounting of Christ's attitude ends in the praise and glory of God (2:5-11), and his own testimony is about God's glory and not Paul's (3:3-7).

This can be a challenge to us in this new Bible study - are we doing it so that our (head) knowledge will grow, or so that we, as Paul prays for, have greater insight and wisdom, which leads us to have changed lives and produce the fruit of righteousness, and all to the glory of God.Maybe this is even more a particular challenge to those of us who will write the studies... are we doing this for God's glory, or our own? I pray that we will all use these to God's glory, as we are moulded and changed and challenged by God's word.

Another thing for us to be thinking about is how often we rejoice and give thanks for other Christians. We noticed the sincere joy and fellowship Paul had with these saints. Do we also rejoice with others, giving thanks when we remember them? Stop for a minute and give thanks for other Christians you know, and the partnership in the gospel.

We are also challenged about how we pray for others... sometimes our prayers can be limited, or basic, in the 'God bless mummy and daddy and everyone everywhere' category. Now, there's nothing wrong with these sorts of prayer, but Paul is specific in what he is praying for, and is confident that God will do it. How then can we be praying intelligently for others, and what do we want them to have?


So earlier today I was in the lakeland county of Fermanagh, on what turned out to be a nice enough day. It was work, though, so the morning was spent in Lisnaskea, doing more of the interviews for the research report... On the way home, though, I decided to call into Ennsikillen, because if you're up that far, then you might as well go to Kathleen's island.

The weather on the way to Fermanagh had been rough, with one shockingly heavy shower in Fivemiletown (which, it turns out, is actually six miles away from Clogher... but there are 5 Irish miles to 6 English miles, so it is named appropriately enough!). but the sun came out, and it was quite bright... right enough to bring on another of my eyes-watering-can-do-nothing-for-a-few-minutes things.

The highlight of the visit was the Enniskillen Castle - with its displays on the history of the Inniskilling Regiment, and the earlier Maguire dynasty in Fermanagh. Well worth a visit! And cheap too - at only £2.75 for adults, although it was £2.20 for students! Then home again - and in just about 2 hours, which wasn't bad going, with a lorry broken down on the A4 between Ballygawley and Dungannon!