Friday, November 30, 2007

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Advent Alarm

I was up far earlier than normal today, and not just because our tutorial group was going out for breakfast. One of my other roles in college this year is fire marshal for the top floor - a potentially disastrous appointment, due to my ability to sleep right through the fire alarm a few weeks back. The fire marshals had received an email saying there would be a testing of the alarm system and evacuation procedure this morning at 7.45am.

I rightly decided that it would be a good idea to be up early enough to have a shower and to be ready to roll as soon as the alarm sounded. In fact, as it turned out, I had about ten minutes to sit and relax. When the alarm sounded and we all gathered outside, it became apparent that some had known that the alarm would be sounded and were ready, while others had dragged themselves out of bed, standing in pajamas in the cold while numbers were checked.

As we approach Advent this Sunday, the events of this morning seemed to be a parable of the Day of the Lord. On that day, the trumpet will sound and all will be called, ready or not. There will be those who were ready for the return of Jesus, watching for his coming, indeed, delighting to see his coming; while others will not be ready, unaware of the alarm to be sounded, sleeping soundly or going about their own business.

When it comes to the Last Day, will you be ready, or appearing in your pajamas?

'You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.' (Luke 12:40)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Quote of the Day

I'm currently reading 'All Things For Good' by Thomas Watson. It's in the Puritan Paperbacks series published by The Banner of Truth Trust, and is a lengthy exposition of Romans 8:28.

Watson is writing about how prayer works for the good of the godly, and is discussing how Peter was released from prison by an angel in Acts 12. Peter then went to the church, who had been praying for him, but who were entirely surprised to see him released! Here's his summary of the incident:

The angel fetched Peter out of prison, but it was prayer that fetched the angel.

What an incentive to prayer!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Wait is Over!

Well folks, the waiting has finished. The Curacy List (yes, another post about that!) is in our hands. Immediately after the Communion service last night we were ushered into the principal's office and given an envelope with the list of vacant parishes for us to choose from. Quite a shock actually, as we were mentally preparing ourselves for the list on Thursday. So to get it on Wednesday was surprising.

The List itself, well, it appears to be interesting - a wide range of parishes with a good geographical spread. Some that we're interested in from the off, but it'll be deciding after a lot of prayer and thinking; oh, and the chance to get the parish profiles and meet the rectors. I'm not going to publish the list online, but if I know you, I may just talk to you about it...

Yesterday was a busy day, as it turned out. Last night (not very long after the list emerged) I was down in Temple Bar at the Delirious concert. Different sort of a concert to what they would normally do - certainly not the 5000 people in the King's Hall or a couple of thousand at the Waterfront. We reckoned there was about 600 in all? Six from college went, and we enjoyed it. It seemed strange, though, singing praise in the middle of Temple Bar, with a bar at the back of the venue...

Anyways, that's my update for now. Still in Dublin tonight as we have a College Day tomorrow. More updates in the near future!

Monday, November 19, 2007

CITC Community Review - Senior Student's Column

Over the summer I had the privilege of travelling to Romania for my College Summer Placement. Through the two weeks with the Smiles Foundation, I saw the tremendous growth of the gospel where previously there had been oppression. One of the highlights of the trip was being in Tileagd Community Church, on the edge of a gypsy village. Together, we praised God – a small fulfilling of the vision of John where he saw every tribe, people and language (Rev 7:9). In the time of open prayer, people prayed aloud to God in English, Romanian, the Gypsy language, and even a flurry of Ulster-Scots! My time in Romania enlarged my vision of God, affirming that ‘Our God is a great big God!’ But more than that, it demonstrated the words of Paul to the Colossians – ‘All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth’ (Col 1:6). We who have been called to preach the gospel can find heart that the gospel of Jesus is powerful and effective, and is still bearing fruit!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Standing for God - A sermon preached in Ballyward and Rathfriland on 18th November 2007. Daniel 6

I want to ask you a question today. If the government made it illegal to pray, would it make any difference to you? Would there be enough evidence to convict you?

In our Old Testament reading today, we heard of events in Babylon during the reign of King Darius. The king made a law that said you weren’t allowed to pray to God or to a false god or to any person, except the king. As we think about what happened, we’ll see how Daniel stands up for God, even when it is dangerous and unpopular.

Daniel, you might remember, was a young man from Judah who was carried away to Babylon when Jerusalem was destroyed by its enemies. The book of Daniel records some of the events of his life, as he and his friends (Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego) stood up for God away from home.

By the time we come to today’s reading, Daniel is an older man, and helps the king to run the country. He’s like one of the top civil servants in the country, or something like the Prime Minister or First Minister.

If you were listening closely, you will have heard that Daniel was very good at his job, so that the king was going to put him into the top job alone. But you know what? His colleagues and fellow-workers didn’t like this, and didn’t like him. His good work showed up their bad work. His work life was a witness to his faith in God.

So they planned to ambush him. They needed to find something to bring him down. Something to have him removed from his job. But what? There was no corruption, nothing that he had done wrong. Until they realised that they could attack him through his faith.

His colleagues got the king to pass the law banning all prayers (except to the king) for the next month. Imagine it, thirty days without prayer! You’ve maybe heard the old phrase that ‘seven days without prayer makes one weak.’ What would Daniel do for thirty days?

Look at verse 10. There we see his response to the problem. He doesn’t launch a protest march, or a letter-writing campaign, or complain to the rector. What does he do? ‘Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened towards Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.’

Law or no law, Daniel would not be stopped from praying! More than that, when the men go to catch him praying, they find him ‘praying and asking God for help.’ It was probably the easiest crime ever solved. The law said you couldn’t pray; the men went to Daniel’s house and found him praying. Case closed. And what would the punishment be?

The law stated clearly – thrown into the lions’ den. Despite the king trying to find a way to stop it, he could do nothing. The law said it, so it must happen. Daniel would be thrown to the lions. Even thought the king did it reluctantly, notice that he expresses some hope or trust in God himself – “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!” The king who had banned prayer was praying himself!

When I was preparing for this morning, I was struck by the forward hint of Jesus’ death. Look at verse 17. ‘A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the ring of his nobles, so that Daniel’s situation may not be changed.’ Does it remind you of how Pilate and the chief priests sealed Jesus’ tomb? ‘So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting a guard.’ (Matthew 27:66)

What would happen? Would God save Daniel? How could it happen? I know this story is probably very familiar to you, and you’ve heard it many times, but try to hear it again for the first time.

It seems that Daniel spent a better night than the king. Daniel was in the den of lions, whereas the king couldn’t eat or drink, and he didn’t even want any entertainment. I don’t think this meant that he didn’t play on his Nintendo Wii or his Playstation, but he didn’t have a happy night. Then he couldn’t even sleep, he was so worried about Daniel.

Early the next morning, he rushes to the den of lions and shouts out to Daniel – if you’re in there, let me know! ‘Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?’ Would Daniel answer? Or had he been eaten for supper by the lions?

Then amazingly, Daniel’s voice echoes out of the den of lions, answering the king! ‘O king, live for ever! My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions.’ Isn’t this great? Daniel wasn’t left alone to avoid the jaws of the hungry lions. God intervened to save him, to stop the lions from eating him. Remember, it wasn’t because the lions weren’t hungry that they didn’t eat him – later when his accusers are thrown to the lions they are overpowered before they even reach the bottom of the den. Only God could have saved and rescued Daniel.

If you were looking closely, you might even find another forward picture of Jesus. Remember how Daniel had been put in the den, and the entrance stone sealed? Think of verse 23. ‘The king was overjoyed and gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den. And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no would was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.’ Daniel was lifted, or raised from the den. We see an image of Jesus’ death and resurrection in Daniel.

But for today – what does the reading mean for us? What difference will it make to you and me? Firstly, there’s the challenge of the working witness. How would your colleagues fare if they were trying to bring you down? Are your business dealings above board? Or in school, is all the work you do your own? Do you cheat, or study?

There’s also the challenge of our evidence as Christians. As I asked at the start, if you were charged with being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you? How important is your prayer life? Daniel prayed three times a day – but once would be a good place to start! A regular pattern or routine can help get started. It isn’t easy, but stick at it. God delights to hear our prayers.

These challenges all come under the main point, though. The call today is to stand for God, trusting in him, even when things are difficult – especially when times are hard. Despite facing the threat of the lions den, Daniel kept praying to his God. Remember those words from the end of verse 23. ‘No wound was found on him because he had trusted in his God.’

By trusting in God, Daniel had been saved. In the book of James it says this – ‘Come near to God and he will come near to you.’ (James 4:8), and in 1 Samuel 2:30, God says – ‘Those who honour me, I will honour.’

Are you standing for God today? The real hero in our reading today is not Daniel. Yes, we should be like him and do what he did. But the real hero in our reading today is – God. He is the one who reaches out and rescues Daniel. If God can shut the mouths of hungry lions for Daniel, then what can he do for you? Nothing is too difficult for him. Will you stand for God, and see what God will do for you?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Curacy List Countdown

It's just over a week until the list of parishes that are looking Curate Assistants will be available to us. For so long the talk in college has been about possible parishes and predictions. Now it's just around the corner. The immanency was made real for me yesterday when we got the official guide to the process emailed out from the office. This is actually happening, and very soon!

It's obviously affecting me somehow - last night I was even dreaming about the list, and was amazed to discover two parishes very close to my own on it - even though one is probably too small to ever have a curate. Let's hope I'm not plagued by similar silly dreams for the next week...

Our position was even more real when Lyns submitted her job application last Thursday. Both of us seeking jobs at roughly the same time; hopefully near by each other, or the marriage will have a difficult start.

And yet we hope. God knew our situation when he brought us together. Is it too difficult for God to work out these things? Not at all. But it's not always easy waiting to see how he's going to do it.

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One other thing for this posting - a happy birthday to my darling Lynsey!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Just Like Christmas

This afternoon in my room it's just like Christmas morning. The reason? Well, the APCK Book Grant has arrived!

Every year, the Association for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge (APCK) provides ordinands with a grant for books. We had the forms all filled in on the first day of term, and the books have now arrived! There was an exciting box sitting awaiting every third year today when we came out of Church History class. Straight away, it was a rush back to the room to get the box opened to see what had arrived!

So far 15 of my choices have come, with another 3 waiting on. So now I have a great choice of books to read, including Mark Driscoll's latest book 'Confessions of a Reformission Rev'; three books by Christopher Wright; the new book 'Pierced for our transgressions', and Ray Galea's book 'Nothing in my hand I bring' on the differences between Roman Catholic and Protestant beliefs. Interesting reading ahead, if only I had these essays out of the way!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Plane Sunrise


Plane Sunrise
Originally uploaded by Gary McMurray.

I'm over in Scotland again for the weekend. Nice spending time in the same country, indeed, the same town as Lynsey for a few days... roll on the wedding (just 8 months and 8 days to go...)

Got the shockingly early flight out of Dublin yesterday morning, and this was the view out of my window. What an amazing sunrise. Good enough for an album cover or some such thing... Slightly annoying thing was that the seatbelt light didn't go off soon enough, as there were amazing views of the lights of Dublin on the ground and the sunrise on the horizon, but I couldn't get them!

So I had my usual walk about Edinburgh yesterday - some more photos to be uploaded at some point, then up on the train to Dundee. Today we were just down in Dundee, having a wander about the shops. Really busy!

Tomorrow night sadly it's back to Dublin again and into a fresh week of work, with the four essays to do before the Christmas holidays... Might as well relax now while I can!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Power of Story

As I've previously written, one of our pre-term weeks this year looked at Youth Ministry. It seems so long ago now, but I think I'm still benefiting from the insights I gained. Anyways, one of the books we were recommended to read was called Hurt by Chap Clark. It is the reflections of a man who sought to gain a greater insight into the world of mid-adolescents, so took a year working as a substitute teacher in a school, and interviewing students.

While it is very American in places (especially when talking about sports etc), it is also a fascinating and intriguing study of teenagers, their life and their outlook. In one of the chapters, he looks at the partying scene, seeking to understand what it is all about. Rather than focusing on the drink and drug (ab)use, he reckons that it is an expression of, or a longing for, community. Parties provide communal experiences, and he then uses these words, which have struck me for their relevance and transference:

Stories create a collective narrative of past experience that points to both a shared memory (which creates unity and binds people together in a common history) and the promise of a bright future, based on the narrative of the past. (p. 162)

One of the words we regularly hear in college is anamnesis. How I think I grasp it, is that when the church meets together, we collectively remember the story of Jesus, and this binds us together in a similar way to how Clark describes the mid-adolescent's searching for community. In the Gospel we have a shared memory which binds us together, and also the promise of a bright future, in glory, with our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

How do our church services and meetings compare? Are we building community through projects and schemes, or through the transforming power of the gospel?

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Neglect

Well, I have to confess I've neglected the blog over the past week or so - been busy, busy! Last Sunday was a big preaching day. Morning was in my placement parishes - Drumgath and Drumgooland; evening was in Dungiven, at the harvest thanksgiving. Think they all went well, which I was glad for.

Monday was a day off, due to the wee bank holiday in Ireland. Didn't do very much - just out for a drive as I wanted to see the new Belfast Wheel beside the City Hall. Was raining really heavily though, so I didn't get out...

Rest of the week, I was back in Dublin, with another week of college finished. Just five more until the Christmas holidays, with almost as many essays due for then too! Friday I was on placement, out doing some pastoral visits. Think it went well - it was nice actually doing the real work for a change!

I'm now doing final preparations for the Smiles service I'm taking tonight in the Cathedral. I've put together the service, and the powerpoint of some pictures from my trip in the summer. They have brought back many memories from the summer. Service is at a strange time tonight, so I'm not sure how many will come along... will let you know in the near future!