Monday, December 31, 2007

2007 Review

This is my 274th blog posting of 2007, and will probably be my last of this year, which means it is time for the annual year review posting! Last year, I had 292 postings, so I haven't blogged just as much this year. Having said that, I've had over 15,000 page views, so thank you for visiting!

What has unfolded in 2007?

January started with me being unwell, but quickly recovering to allow me to enjoy the last few days before Lynsey went back to Scotland. During that time I discovered the best way to slow me down, as well as tasting pheasant and venison. I also penned a few posts on Lamentations, which you can see here, here and here. Another new feature in January was the proper use of Flickr!

February brought my new toy, and a couple of sermons - here and here. I also visited Scotland during this month, but not for the last time in 2007!

The main highlight in March was the Councils Challenge. Robert and myself on a road trip around Northern Ireland, visiting every district council in the one day! There was also the disappointment of another Schools Cup Final defeat for Wallace.

April was the month of Easter, and I had some special postings for Holy Week. It also saw the football match between Union College and CITC. Least said about that the better! On a brighter note, granny turned 80, and mum turned 60.

May was the month of second year exams, which were passed! It also seemed to be the beginning of my 1 Peter summer, as I blogged a bit about it, and also preached on it.

June was probably the month when my photo-taking really kicked off. I really liked this photo. There was a trip to Liverpool, and a few days in Scotland.

July was the month of Bryan and Louise's wedding, Summer Madness, and lots of preachings in Annalong, Dundonald, and Dromore.

August was my summer placement month in Romania. My time with the Smiles Foundation was very special and I will never forget the people I worked with, and the faith of the people out there. Our God is a great big God!

September was back to college and the beginning of my new placement in Drumgooland and Drumgath.

October was the least blogged month, with just 10 posts, although, looking back, the postings weren't high in numbers for the whole second half of the year. I'll have to work harder at producing some content on the blog in 2008! The most notable thing from this month had to be my 'return' to school.

November was the start of the Appointment of Candidate Deacons process, or as we know it better, the Curacy List. A month on, and we're still in the thick of it!

December has been another quiet month on the blog, with some reflections on Advent and Christmas, and some photos being shared.

In my next postings, I'll look forward to 2008 and bring you my favourite photos from 2007. Until then, happy new year!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Testimony of Stephen

Today is known by some as Boxing Day, but it is also called St Stephen's Day by some. It got me thinking about Stephen, the first Christian martyr, so I had a look at Acts 6-7.

You may or may not know that Stephen comes from the Greek for 'crown' or 'garland', and the testimony of Acts is that Stephen was indeed crowned with splendour. Just pause for a moment and consider these words describing him:

'Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit' (6:5) ... 'a man full of God's grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people' (6:8) ... 'they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke' (6:10) ... 'his face was like the face of an angel' (6:15) ... Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God (7:56).

What a testimony! Not only was he crowned, he was 'full' - of faith, of God's grace, of God's power, and of the Holy Spirit. When opposed in the Sanhedrin, he boldly preached Scripture and testified to the wisdom and glory of God.

Tertullian once said that the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church. Had we been leaders of the church in Jerusalem at the time, would we have encouraged Stephen to holy boldness, or urged him to be restrained, not wanting to lose one of our best men? The testimony of Stephen against the Jews (Acts 7:2-53) is a compelling outline of the history of God's dealings with his people and their constant turning away. It led to fury among the Jews.

But more than that, the resulting persecution spread the gospel farther out from Jerusalem, sending 'all except the apostles ... throughout Judea and Samaria' (8:1).

God grant that we would share in the fullness of Christ, and that we would also know the holy boldness of Stephen, as we seek to share our faith and tell of the good news of Jesus.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas Greetings

May I wish you all a blessed and peaceful Christmas as you remember Christ Jesus and celebrate the good news of his birth and the success of God's rescue plan to save us from our sins.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Happy Couple

The Happy Couple
Originally uploaded by Gary McMurray.

Today Glenn Gibson married Linsey McLeod at a service in Great Victoria Street Presbyterian Church in Belfast. Lynsey and myself were present, and this is one of the photos from the day. Many more can be found by clicking on the photo, or by clicking here.

My best wishes and prayers for the couple as they begin their married life together.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Christmas Shop

Now don't worry, I'm not speaking about those awful shops where all the year round, you can buy tree decorations and baubles. Rather, I'm talking about the Christmas shop - the big grocery shop for Christmas.

I remember in years gone by, we looked forward to the Christmas shop for several months, the time when multipacks of crisps and lots of extra food were bought in! Mum and dad don't drive, so we did it in J & J's - the biggest supermarket in Dromore at the time. One year I can even remember us bringing it all home in the trolley with dad pushing it through the town!

Anyway, today was the designated day of the Christmas shop. Just mum and me this year, and surprisingly, Tesco wasn't overly busy. Busy enough, but not as bad as I've seen it in previous years. And even more surprisingly, we managed to get everything we were looking - except for one thing.

You'll never guess what was out of stock in Tesco Bentrim Road in Lisburn... Digestive biscuits! McVities and Tesco own brand and any other brand were all sold out! After braving Tesco, we then had to call into Sainsbury's on the way home.

So, in the familiar words of the harvest hymn, all has been safely gathered in for the Christmas celebrations. What a pity that for so many, the over-indulgence is their only thought at Christmas, rather than the Christ child at the heart of the celebration.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Yes, it's Christmas

For me, it is now officially Christmas. Yes, I know I've been on holiday for two weeks now (eep - which means we're halfway through the college break), and we've had the Christmas dinner and party in college. Yes, I know I've already had turkey a few times, including the other day in a panini in Cafe Zipporah in the Jethro Centre in Lurgan (best I've ever tasted!). Yes, I know it's the cold and frosty weather. Yes, I know I've been in Belfast and seen the Continental Market and the stalls and the last minute shoppers.

But for all that, Christmas started for me tonight. I was in the Clayton Memorial Hall, the smaller of our parish's two buildings, in the choir room. It was the last practice before the Carol Service, and also the first one I've been to. Singing the carols and hearing the thrilling descants means that Christmas is here for 2007!

Normally I would be going out carol singing - I always love being bundled up and hitting the streets to sing carols and spread the good news about Jesus, but I haven't been this year. On Sunday, we visited a parish on the Curacy List, and they were talking about carolling on Tuesday night. Oh how I wish I was going!

So Christmas is here. Once again we recall the good news that Jesus Christ, the second Person of the Trinity took on flesh, giving up the splendours of heaven for the grotty stable; being born so that he would grow up and die for us. Isn't that fantastic news?!

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. - 2 Corinthians 8:9

Friday, December 14, 2007

Flickr Statr

Originally uploaded by Gary McMurray.

Flickr have recently launched their indepth stats. You can read more about it here, but for me it has been quite an eye-opener.

Just yesterday I was chuffed to have reached 15,000 views - but now I realise this was 15,000 views of my photostream. My photos have actually been viewed over 55,000 times!

Some difference!

Holiday Update

Just a wee update after the first week of holidays from college! Sadly, the week began with some car trouble, which meant I was immobile for 3 days - back to public transport again, which was different, but enjoyable - meant I could read while travelling.

Then yesterday I had a meeting with one of the Curacy Rectors. It was very positive, and we'll see what comes of it...

Other than that, I'm taking it easy and can't wait for tomorrow, when Lyns arrives home for the holidays! Will be great to see her again and spend some quality time with her, as it's a bit wick being so far away from her most of the time with all the partings when we are together.

Still three weeks of holidays left- hurray!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

It's Wheely Wheely Big!

It's Wheely Wheely Big!
Originally uploaded by Gary McMurray.

Yesterday was the first time I was in Belfast City Centre for a long time, well, long enough to get some photos of the Continental Market and the Belfast Wheel. This is one of my favourite shots, although there are a lot more in my Flickr account - links to it from the right of this blog.

And apologies for the awful title of this posting (which is also the title of the photo), but it is really wheely big!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Deck the Halls!

Last Saturday there was a pipe band playing Christmas tunes in the Abbeycentre. Think it was Major Sinclair Memorial Pipe Band. Here they are, playing 'deck the halls':

Repent! A sermon preached in Ballyward and Rathfriland on 9th December 2007. Matthew 3:1-12

A few weeks ago, we were coming out of a lecture in Trinity, when we noticed a lot of security around the campus. Being kind of nosy, we asked what was happening, and we were told that the King and Queen of Belgium were due to arrive soon. So we decided to wait around to see them. There were TV crews, a group of students dressed in the colours of the Belgian flag, security guards, police, the whole works. There was even a man with a hoover, sucking up the leaves from the courtyard!

Eventually, the police outriders on their motorbikes came through the front gate, with lots of cars in the convoy, and finally, the car carrying the king and queen themselves. How did we know to get ready to see them? The outriders were coming in front, preparing the way, making it was clear.

In our Gospel reading this morning, we encounter the ‘outrider’ in front of Jesus, preparing us for the coming of Jesus. That outrider was, of course, John the Baptist. He is even introduced to us in that way by Matthew. Look at verse 3: ‘This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”’ (Matt 3:3).

Long ago, God had spoken through the prophet Isaiah, and had promised that before Jesus arrived, there would be a messenger, an outrider to prepare the way for him. We’re going to think about that voice in the desert, to see what his message was, the effects of his message, and what it means for us today.

So what was the message? What was the voice crying out? We see the summary in verse 2. ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’ Within the message, John tells us some news, and what to do about it. Notice that he says the ‘kingdom of heaven’ is near. The kingdom of heaven speaks of the kingship of God. God’s rule on earth is coming near.

The Old Testament prophets had spoken of how God’s king would come and reign. But from the time of Malachi, there had been four hundred years of silence from heaven. No king had come. Then suddenly, John appears on the scene and declares that God’s king is coming. What the people had to do was ‘repent.’

But what does that mean? Sometimes we use words in church that we think everyone understands, but because they’re used so often, we forget what it is all about. So I ask again, what was the message?

When John called out to the people to repent, he was calling them to turn around. It wasn’t in a Simon says kind of way, not a physical turning, but a turning of their ways. You see, they, like us, had been going in their own ways, doing whatever they wanted, running away from God.

John calls them, and us, to repent, to turn around; to stop going our own way and to turn and go God’s way. Imagine that I was heading to Dublin after church and set off in the car. But rather than heading for Banbridge, Newry and onto the new M1, I was going towards Belfast and on up towards Coleraine. Whenever I realised my mistake, I could either keep going the wrong way, or I could turn around, repent, and go the right way.

This is what John was telling the people to do. For so long they had been running away from God. Now he calls them to repent, to turn around, and go towards God.

So what were the effects of John’s message? If you remember that John was preaching in the desert of Judea (verse 1), out in the wilderness, then it may surprise you to read that ‘people went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan’ (3:5). Despite the distance and inconvenience, people went to hear what he had to say.

More than that, they took on board what he was saying and obeyed him. As we read verse 6 today, we may not grasp the scandal of what’s going on there. It says this: ‘Confessing their sins, they were baptised by him in the Jordan River.’

If a Gentile wanted to become a Jew, they would undergo a ceremonial washing, to purify them. This was their baptism. For a Jew, therefore, to be baptised was a scandalous thing. They were admitting their need of God, rather than dependence on themselves, or on their heritage.

The people confessed their sins, acknowledging how they had failed in the past, how they had gone their own way. Then they were baptised for repentance, a sign of washing, and a symbol of turning to God.

But notice that it isn’t enough just to be baptised; it isn’t enough to just repent. More than that, he urges them to ‘produce fruit in keeping with repentance’ (Matt 3:8). It’s not enough to just talk the talk, you also have to walk the walk.

This is what John is saying to the crowds, and to the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to hear him. They thought that they were ok with God, because they were part of Abraham’s family. But John quite clearly says that what we do is as important as who we are. Look at verse 10. ‘The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.’

Are you producing good fruit in your life? It’s easy to say that you’re following God, that Jesus is the Lord of your life. You might even think that because you have been baptised, that that is enough. Yet John says that God is looking for the fruit of repentance, for evidence of the changed life. Is it obvious to those around you that you have repented, that you have turned around? Can people who have known you for a long time, or even a short time, see that there is something different about you?

As we think of John’s words today, do you see the urgency of them? John was the messenger, the outrider, preparing the way for Jesus. He was calling people to be ready for Jesus. This is also what our season of Advent is all about. We’re preparing for Jesus’ coming – while we remember his first coming, we look to his second coming, as king and judge.

Look at verse 12. The image is of Jesus as a farmer, threshing the wheat. Just as David reminded us last week of the two destinations, heaven and hell, so John speaks of them here. ‘His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’

On that day of judgement it will be too late to change your mind, or to turn around and repent. Where we finish is determined by our course. Will you continue to set your own course, going your own way, running from God? Or will you hear and heed the words of John the Baptist, preparing the way for Jesus – ‘repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


I've been finding recently that I haven't been blogging as much as I used to. It's almost a week since my last posting, so here goes!

We're well into Advent now, the time of waiting and preparation, the time of getting ready for Christmas, but more importantly, for the second coming of Jesus, as King and Judge. For a great advent sermon, check out Robert's blog. He hits the nail on the head.

As well as being Advent, it's the last week of the Michaelmas term in College. Where have the last eleven weeks gone? The essay deadlines are looming - last year all the essays were spaced through the term, but this year we have a blanket deadline of Friday week. So that was a bit of a different dynamic, not having to produce an essay each week, but needing to get them all done before the deadline hits. Having managed to read for and write my Old Testament yesterday, I just have a couple of hundred words left to do on my Church History essay, although the books I need are somewhere at home. It was such a great relief to hand in three essays this morning, and just the one to finish off.

Ahead now are the four weeks of Christmas holidays - happy days, although they'll be my last big long Christmas holidays as next year (DV) I'll be in my new parish. Yes, the Curacy List continues to rumble away in the background - have visited one of the possibilities last weekend and going to another this week. Exciting times!

But the best thing about my Christmas holidays is that my darling Lynsey will be home for the last three of them. It's always good to spend some time together on the same island, and I can't wait to be with her for the holidays, making final preparations and plans for the wedding and thinking over the possibilities of the Curacy parishes... Roll on the 15th!