Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Final exam!!!

So there we are, the final exam has been done! As I wrote this morning, there were three sections, and we had to do one from each, and an extra one depending on which we wanted. In the reformation section, I got two questions I really liked: To what extent was the English reformation an act of state? and The failure of the reformation in Ireland is one of the questions in early modern Irish history. Identify and analyse the main contributions to the debate.

The early period had one question I was fond of: How significant were the Christian persecutions in the Roman Empire? The medieval period, though, was the nightmare, and was my weakest topic... The three questions were on Charlemagne's attitude to churches and especially St Peter's in Rome; a discussion of whether Ireland in the period 600-1169 was indeed the land of saints and scholars; and something else I can't even mind now... I ended up doing the saints and scholars one - had an hour to do it as I had the others ones done quite quickly, but just about got two pages of blether and waffle done... Let's hope the other three questions were strong enough!

The end of first year beckons, although we still have our viva voce (oral) on our pastoral work tomorrow morning - although due to an anomaly in the Dublin University Calendar, and the way the course has been structured, we can't be failed in pastoral studies if we mess up the interview! So there isn't really any pressure... it's just a friendly chat with the Principal!

Then tomorrow night we have our closing Communion service of the year, and then a barbecue over at the Principal's house... then it's up the road north! And that is first year at the Church of Ireland Theological College complete!

Last Exam!

So here we go... the morning of the last exam, and just an hour to go until we start the paper. Normally I would be off getting breakfast somewhere in the city centre (as I did the mornings of the exams last week), but I managed to get breakfast this morning in college before we left. So I was left wondering what to do... and remembered the wee internet cafe on Grafton Street. So I'm here just checking emails etc before we meet up outside the exam room at about 8.45 for a final chat and revision!

My motivation for work is almost finished, but I just have to get through these next three hours, and write some coherent thoughts on the past two millenia of church history... The questions I'll do depends on what questions come up - the paper will be in three sections - the early church to Constantine; the medieval period; the reformation. We have to do four questions in total, at least one from each section... so I'm not sure which my 'favourite' section is going to be, in which I do two questions. Possibly the reformation, if good questions come up. We'll see!!!

I'll write more on the whole exam thing later, after I get it done.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Exam Four

So there we are... the fourth exam has been done, and we just have Church History to do tomorrow morning. Yeah, that's the nightmare, cos we had New Testament this afternoon and back to college and cram for the next exam straight away, and then the early start for the morning exam!

Today's exam went quite well, and I managed to get four questions that I could answer (yet again).The questions I answered were: Section A (Mark): Comment on the following with respect to Mark 5:21-41: a) the sandwich literary technique and b) distinctive Christian theological terms; and The Gospel of Mark is the story of human failure. Discuss. Section B was on the rest of the New Testament, so the answers I did were on: The distinctive Johannine features of his Passion Narrative; and Discuss the idea of Christian ministry from the Pastoral Epistles. I'm well happy with the answers I gave. So let's hope tomorrow morning goes well too... and then we're home!!!

Monday, May 29, 2006

Exam Three

Hurray!!! We're more than halfways through now!!! Today's exam was Liturgy, and wasn't as bad as I expected... I really didn't know what would come up, and some fo the questions were a bit tricky... e.g. 'Discuss the differences between the 1549 Book of Common Prayer and the 1552 Book of Common Prayer (ok - so the question is fine so far...) in the service of Morning Prayer' (aaaaaaaagh!!!) Nightmare question!

But even with that, I managed to find four of the eight questions that I could attempt and think I've done enough to pass this one. The questions I attempted were (roughly): 1. Give a definition of worship and its role in the socialisation of church members. 6. Identify the following quotation (from the Didache) and write a commentary on it. (The passage was the eucharistic thanksgiving prayers from the early church in Syria). 7. Compare and contrast the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements. 8. Comment on the word 'common' in relation to the 1549 Book of Common Prayer.

So that's Liturgy done and dusted. The next exam now is tomorrow afternoon, when we turn our attention to the New Testament... this one should be ok, cos all the answers are in the Bible we're supplied with!

[On other matters... to answer the girls, yes, I am indeed so so so so random, but sure, that's me!!!]

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Faithful Remnant: Singing the Lord's songs in a foreign land - Daniel 1

Here beginneth a few observations from the book of Daniel - I'm reading through it as part of my devotions at present, and also using the commentary by Stuart Olyott (in the Welwyn Series)... so when I have opportunity, I'll write a bit on each chapter.

Daniel opens with the story of the exile, when King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon destroyed the city of Jersualem, and carried off the cream of the young men of Judah. These he would train up for three years in all the literature and language of the Chaldeans, before being released into his service.

And so, we find that four young men are taken, their names being Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. Daniel, you probably know the name of, but the other three you'll probably know better as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Those were the names given to them as part of the re-programming, to make them no longer Jews, but good Babylonians. Daniel's other name was Belteshazzar. All four of their original names have elements of YAHWEH in them - the name of the Lord God Almighty, but their new names were dedications to the Babylonian gods.

Yet Daniel and the boys decided that they would remain faithful to God, despite being in a foreign land, and under the pressures of living in an opporessive culture. They resolved to not eat the food from the king's table - which had been sacrificed to the gods. Instead, they would eat just vegetables and drink water.

The chief boyo that was looking after them was sore afeared, because, as he pointed out, if you look worse after the ten days trial than the other candidates, then it'll be my head on the chopping block... But they found favour in his eyes, and he allowed to them to do as they wished.

And at the end of the ten days? They were better in appearance, and more healthier than the rest! So they were allowed to continue eating their vegetables and drinking their water. And then, at the end of their three years trial, they were brought in front of Nebuchadnezzar, for the final testing. And the faithful remnant, the four boys were found to be ten times better then all the magicians and enchanters that were in the kingdom - that is, the established ones, not just their fellow candidates!

The end result was that they were put into key positions in the state, because being faithful to God in small matters is rewarded with the opportunity to be faithful in larger matters. We'll see how they fared through the exile.

Msn contactless

So there we are... I never thought I would see the day when: 'all your contacts are offline' - no one at all online!

Or maybe everyone else is enjoying a lie in... ah well, it's off to Magheralin for me!

Saturday, May 27, 2006

General Update

Hm... so what to talk about... There's nothing 'big' to report since my last posting about the exam the other day... and yet I feel that the blog is a waste if I'm not putting something on it...

So yesterday I had a nice bit of a relaxing day, having a nice lie in, and then went to Bangor. I didn't go on the swans this time, but had a look into the bookshops etc and got a few wee bargains. Then I got the great news that Lynsey is coming home next Saturday for the summer, so I can't wait for that!

Last night there was a band parade in Dromore, and took a walk up the street to see who was about, and see some bands. the best, by far, was Mourne Young Defenders, who are taking meldoy fluting and good parading to the next level. They were even selling a dvd, so I have it now, but ain't had a chance to watch it yet.

Today then was another bit of a lie in, then away to Newtownards with me ma... she does like to go places most Saturdays. So I had a wander about there, had a look into the bookshops (you might have guessed, of course!)...

Very soon, then, I'm heading out to go for bowling at the Odyssey for Jordan's 21st birthday... is it ethical to beat the birthday boy at bowling??? We'll find out later on!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Exam 2

So there we are... Old Testament Essay has been done and dusted. Once again, one of the topics I ended up doing, I hadn't quite revised properly, but I was able to answer for questions in the exam! And that's all that counts, really. I'll not include the questions this time, as they were more on methods of criticism, rather than the Old Testament.

So I'm home again, and able to relax a wee bit in the good weather for a bit of an extended weekend... although, of course, Monday afternoon's liturgy exam looms on the horizon. But before then, we have the excitement of Jordan's 21st celerations in Belfast on Saturday night, and then I'm leading the services in Dollingstown, Magheralin and Dromore on Sunday...

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

BBC World Cup Guidelines for commentary team.

[This is not mine, but I was emailed it and thought I should pass it on to the widest possible audience!]

1 -Within 1 minute of kick off in the opening match (Germany v Costa Rica),
the commentator must mention England.

2 - Regardless of what two teams are contesting the final, England have to
be mentioned within the first minute.

3 - The commentator shall refer to the Falkland Isles in passing at some
point in the match if England play Argentina.

4 - Whenever a hat trick is scored, comparisons with Geoff Hurst will be
made within seconds of the third goal hitting the net.

5 - Should England wear their red jerseys, then '1966' should be mentioned
approximately 20 times.

6 - 1966 will be mentioned approximately 10 times a match, or only on 4 or 5
occasions for matches not involving England.

7 - Prior to the captain of the winning team lifting the trophy, the
commentator will mention Bobby Moore. And 1966.

8 - When Germany are playing, they must be referred to as being arrogant by
the commentator on at least 14 occasions. This must refer to their style,
their passing, their haircuts and their general footballing ability.

9 - Should England play Germany, mentions of Winston Churchill, Dambusters,
The Luftwaffe and Adolf Hitler will be compulsory. And 1966.

10 - All Scottish members of our commentary team must continue to refer to
England as "we" and "us".

11 - We must ensure that nationlistic stereotypes are adhered to. Of course,
the Germans are arrogant. The Spanish are bottlers, The Ivory Coast are fast
but bad at defending, The Angolans are disorganised, The Argentinians are
cheats and the French are only good because their best players play in

12 - For matches not involving England, we must only discuss the players
that are playing in England. (eg - Holland v Argentina should be referred to
as Van Nistelroy v Crespo).

13 - The mythical "bulldog spirit" phrase should be used as often as

14 - Each match involving England should begin with the phrase "England

15 - Should any player be involved in an injury that involves the loss of
teeth, then references to Nobby Stiles and 1966 are compulsory.

16 - If in doubt, mention 1966.

17 - Praise all of the stunning new stadiums in Germany but emphasise that
they lack the presence of Wembley, the spiritual home of football since

18 - Commentators should feel free to imitate the style of Kenneth
Wolstenholme, the hero of 1966.

19 - Should any team feature brothers playing together, then Jackie and
Bobby Charlton should be mentioned.

20 - When England bow out after the first stage, we must emphasise that it
is a massive blow to football and a serious loss to the World Cup.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Systematics Exam!

And so the first exam is over and done. Now, most of you who read my blog will know my strong dislike of all things 'morning.' Yet the first exam (and two others), are at 9.30am, in Trinity College, slap bang in the centre of Dublin. So to be in for the early start, it was an even earlier start at CITC. To allow for random Luas stoppages, or traffic, or whatever, we decided we would leave at 7.30am - so that, if things went well we would be in Dublin for about 8am, and have some time to get breakfast and have a read over stuff, and get to the hall in good time.

And so it was that my alarm went off at 6.45am. As with any normal night, I had wakened a few times through the night, but managed to drag myself out of bed and met the others at the Student Door to head off. There wasn't actually much traffic about, and we managed to get to St Stephen's Green on the Luas for just about 8am.

The exam itself wasn't too bad, and out of the twelve questions on the paper, I found four that I could do. The ones I chose were: What are the problems with experience as the primary source for Christianity? Why did local theologies develop and what difference have they made to the practice of theology? Can the doctrine of the Trinity be found in the New Testament? Why is the resurrection of Jesus important for the Christian hope? - Answers on the back of a postcard, or in a comment box!

In order to forget about it a bit, and relax, I headed off in the car to Dun Laoghire. Most people only know it as the place to go to get on the boat for Wales, but it's actually a nice wee village as well, with a good pier and coastal walk to enjoy. It's one of my 'secret' getaway places, when I can escape from college for an hour or two. And it wasn't raining too hard, but as I type now it is raining soooooo hard!!!! Glad I'm inside again!

So the next exam is Old Testament, on Thursday morning, again at 9.30am. No doubt I'll talk about it in due time...

Monday, May 22, 2006

Exam Weeks

So the exam weeks are finally here - and the second and third years have both been examined already. That joy will be mine tomorrow, as we sit our Systematics paper. Three hours to answer four questions on the basic dotrines of the Christian faith, and on how we can approach God - the sources of theology and such like.

So today, I haven't really done much revision - to be honest, I'm fairly confident I'll be able to pass the exams, between what I have already learned and remembered from lectures, what I know, and what I'll read tomorrow morning on the LUAS (tram system in Dublin). Instead, I met up with Michael Potter, from TWN (Training for Women Network). We were at university together, and in fact, he was the only person in our year to get a First in Politics... (so yeah, I didn't get one!). We ended up working together on a couple of research projects in the victims' sector, Michael as the researcher, and me one of the working party, advising him on his approach in the sector. But with me being out of the sector (although my return is immanent!), I haven't seen him in a while. So it was good to catch up again.

I also found that this morning I was able to catch up with a lot of paperwork, and letters which had to be written, and cheques that needed posting. So all that is done, but I still have a list of 'to do' items as long as your arm on my desk... to be done after the exam tomorrow though.

So I'd better be off here - it'll be Evening Prayer soon in the Chapel, then dinner, then I'll have a quick look over my stuff and try for an early night as it will be a shocking early start in the morning to be in Trinity for 9am at the latest... aaaaagh!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

New Link and a map

Somehow or other - perhaps through the Church of Ireland email forum, I managed to come across a very funny blog site, detailing the experiences of Peter Neill, son of the Archbiscuit of Dublin. Click to go and see Gizmo's (Non)sense.

A feature of his website which was quite interesting was the following map program,which shows what percentage of the world and where you have visited:

create your own visited countries map
or vertaling Duits Nederlands

Ok, so my map isn't that impressive... but give me some time!

Friday, May 19, 2006


Guys, just a very brief posting this evening... With several matters of interest.

The first is the work of one of Lynsey's friends, for her Art Degree. Some of it is art with a message, and is all impressive stuff. You can check out the pictures by clicking here.

The second is that you may have noticed down the righthand side that I have some links to video files of some bands. I now have registered for my own page at Putfile, and you willbe able to view some of my video footage there from now! The first new video is that of the South Down DUP band tonight in Banbridge, under the Cut, and then parading up part of Newry Street.

Da Vinci...

So there we are - I'm just back from the First Screening of the Da Vinci Code in Northern Ireland... Yeah, you might think I'm a bit sad, but it was interesting to be there, and to see what it was all about. Seemingly it was of enough importance for UTV to send along Pamela Ballentine and a cameraman... although we didn't stop for an interview.

One of the most interesting things, as it turned out, was that the posh car that takes the lead characters from the airport to the Temple Church in London is a Fermanagh Reg car: CIL are the letters... so maybe that says something about the film itself, if I notice things like that.

The story is slightly different from the book - much more condensed, and yet, doesn't really grab the attention. For it to be a suspense, it just doesn't cut it some of the time. But let's not be overly critical. It was still quite a good film, and made good use of locations etc - although their use of Lincoln Cathedral interior for Westminster just wasn't adequate!

We must remember, though, that the story is fiction... and agood job too, because if it were pretending to be factual, it gets a lot of its important details wrong. So, for example, Constantine made Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire in 325 at the Council of Nicaea... well, not quite. Also, they argue that before that, Christians had attacked the Roman Empire - I've never heard of that before... but certainly the Empire attacked and persecuted Christians.

To be fair, though, Robert Langdon does seem to play devil's advocate, in arguing for the orthodox position several times, which isn't found in the book - but even then, things are always left that the conspiracy wins out, as they search for the resting place of Mary Magdalene, and the descendants of Jesus and Mary...

One thing grates a bit, though. A couple of times through the film (and also the book), the characters always make strong arguments for seeking truth - it is the truth they are seeking. Langdon is the voice for modern pluralism, as he says 'it's all about what you believe yourself' - meaning, of course, that belief is all subjective, down to the individual, and that there is no objective truth. And sadly, that is where the whole thing falls down. They try to make out that Jesus was just a man, who three hundred years later, at the Council of Nicaea, was declared to be God - transferred from being a man, to being God. Yet they never quite manage it, because they totally miss the central character, not just in the film, but also in world history. There was One who said 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life' - yet the characters in the story never come to the truth. When Jesus rose from the dead (a sure proof that he was divine), Thomas greeted him with the words 'My Lord and my God' - and Jesus didn't rebuke him. In Philippians 2, we find an early Christian hymn, which clearly ascribes to Jesus the worship and position that only belonged to God - that 'at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow.'

So do the characters find the truth? Well, they think they have, when they realise that Sophie is the descendant of Mary Magdalene, but their idea couldn't be further from the truth.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Revision Weeks...

So there we are, the final revision week, and this time next week, the first exam will have been done. Thankfully I'm making good progress, and have done about half of all the 'units' I want to do. It's just a matter of keeping at it, and getting them all done in note form, and then when that's done, reading over and trying to remember the notes in the run up to each exam.

On other matters, I went to see Mission Impossible 3 last night. How confusing! I don't want to ruin it for anyone, but again, it relies on the whole 'someone you think is someone is someone else in a mask' routine... But the effects were good, and it wasn't a bad film.

Oh, and I had salted popcorn for the first time ever - yuck!!! I simply asked for popcorn, and that was what I was given - me not even thinking there were options for popcorn. And that was immediately after me asking what drinks they had (they had no signs up or anything, so I had to ask, but the guy couldn't really understand me, the first two or three times I asked!). So it turned out that not much popcorn was consumed. Probably for the best, all told.

My next cinema-going will probably be to see the Da Vinci Code at some point - it would be interesting to see how it all looks, rather than having to imagine what the scenery looks like. Of course, the theory it puts forward is complete nonsense, but it's a decent story, as fiction.

Monday, May 15, 2006

'I am the Light of the World' - A Sermon preached (in various forms) in Dollingstown, Magheralin and Dromore on 14th May 2006. John 8:12

This Friday, the Da Vinci Code will be released in the cinemas here. After the hype of the book, more people will again be asking just who Jesus was. Over the coming days, we will no doubt hear many opinions about him, most, probably wide of the mark. There will be no shortage of views. But this morning, let’s turn again to hear what Jesus says about himself.

In our reading this morning, Jesus says ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’ (8:12). So what does this mean? When Jesus says he is the light of the world, what does it mean for us?

In John’s Gospel, we find a series of ‘I am’ statements, where Jesus speaks about himself. So we find that Jesus says, ‘I am the bread of life’ (6:35), ‘I am the gate for the sheep’ (10:7), ‘I am the good shepherd’ (10:11), ‘I am the resurrection and the life’ (11:25), ‘I am the way and the truth and the life’ (14:6), and ‘I am the true vine’ (15:1).

These ‘I AM’ statements talk about the functions and roles Jesus plays. But even more, they are an echo of the divine name, the covenant name of God, which was revealed to Moses at the burning bush: ‘I AM WHO I AM’ (Exodus 3:14). We find this occurrence again at Jesus’ arrest, later in John’s Gospel. ‘When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.’ (John 18:6). The soldiers fell before his divinity.

Some of these ‘I am’ statements are directly connected to the ‘signs’ in John’s Gospel, as a way of explaining the sign. So, for example, we find that after Jesus feeds the five thousand, he tells the people that ‘I am the bread of life.’ And just before he raises Lazarus from the dead, he tells Martha, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.’

As with the raising of Lazarus, and the feeding of the five thousand, this statement is linked to the sign. In chapter nine, we find that Jesus heals the man born blind, at the same time, saying again that ‘I am the light of the world’ (9:5). So again, something physical and real for the individual is a sign of something spiritual, of universal importance. Just as the man born blind was released from his darkness to be able to see, so we can be released from our darkness, and live in the light of the gospel, the light of Jesus.

In order for us to understand just what this means, and to see how it applies to us, we’re going to go on a quick tour of John’s Gospel, looking at his use of light. So first, let’s turn to the beginning of John’s Gospel, to the Christmas Gospel. This passage is probably so familiar, that sometimes we can miss things in it. In effect, verses 1 – 18 are the manifesto for the whole gospel, the teaser trailer before the details are explored. We find the key themes that John will return to time and again in his gospel.

‘In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it’ (1:4-5). Verses four and five clearly flag the importance of light, and of life. We’ll consider these later on, but for now, we notice that ‘the light shines in the darkness.’

You see, the world was full of darkness. This darkness takes many forms, and points to a variety of things, none too pleasant. As we find in Psalm 88, darkness is a symbol of mourning and grief, as we read ‘Your wrath has swept over me; your terrors have destroyed me. All day long they surround me like a flood; they have completely engulfed me. You have taken my companions and loved ones from me; the darkness is my closest friend’ (Ps 88:16-18).

But the main image of darkness is that of sin. This is the darkness that covered the earth (oppression, injustice and pain). But rather than being ashamed of this sin, and wanting to do something about it, people got used to the darkness, they got used to going their own way. But, as you might have experienced during a power cut, it isn’t easy to walk about in the dark – you stumble and fall – even in your own house, where you think you know where the table is, and that unit…

But into this darkness, ‘the light shines.’ While the people around him were stumbling in the darkness of sin, Jesus, the sinless one was a light. He was different to those around him, shining brightly. And yet, as he shone brightly, the darkness ‘has not understood it.’

When we move to chapter three, we find that Jesus is talking to Nicodemus, and he tells him a startling thing: ‘This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light, because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it might be plainly seen that what he has done has been through God’ (3:19-21).

‘Men loved darkness instead of light.’ How true this is. Because as we sin, we get used to being far away from God, and being in darkness, and we start to prefer the darkness, where no one can see what we’re really like. The light can be blinding, and bring fear.

In my room in college, I have big thick curtains. They’re great, because they close out all the light, which means I can sleep. But come morning, it means that when I open them, the light can be rather blinding if the sun is shining. And it almost seems preferable to keep the curtains closed, to sit in darkness, rather than have the bright light shining in.

‘Men loved darkness instead of light.’ We see this in the life of Jesus, as the Pharisees and scribes and teachers of the law become more infuriated with him. They just cannot understand what he is saying – or perhaps, maybe more accurately, they understand what he’s saying, but don’t like it. And what did they do? They plotted against him, had him arrested, and crucified him. The darkness has not understood the light. In the margin of my Bible, though, it suggests that another way of saying it in the original language is that ‘the darkness has not overcome it.’

The hymn ‘In Christ alone’ speaks of his crucifixion like this: ‘Light of the world by darkness slain.’ But the darkness did not overcome the light. Jesus rose again from the dead, and is alive for ever more, and his light shines brightly. Just think of a dark room – it seems that darkness is in control. But light one candle, and what happens? The light of the candle banishes the darkness – light is stronger than darkness. And in the same way, the light which Jesus brings is stronger than the darkest situation you find yourself in – no matter how dark.

Jesus is the light of the world. The Jew would have been instructed and known that God was their light. We find that Psalm 27 opens with the words ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation’ (Ps 27:1). The background to chapters 7 – 10 of John Gospel is that Jesus is in Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles (7:14 cf 7:2). The Feast was all about remembering the time that Israel spent living in tents coming out of Egypt and moving to the Promised Land. One of the things that happened, then, was that four huge lamps were lit in the temple courts, which provided light for the whole of Jerusalem.

This action recalled the ‘pillar of fire’ in Exodus 13, which provided light for the Israelites to travel at night, and demonstrated God’s presence with them as they travelled. But the promise of the prophets was that the Messiah would not just be a light for Israel, as we read in Isaiah: ‘I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth’ (Isaiah 49:6). So we find that Jesus is indeed the light of the world, not just of Israel.

It’s the light that we need, in order to see and to walk. We find this stated both negatively, and then positively in the verse we’re especially focusing on. Jesus says ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’ (8:12).

‘Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness.’ As Jesus then says in chapter 12, ‘The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going’ (12:35). Is that you today? Are you looking to the future, not knowing what is going to happen? Have you been walking in the dark up to now, not knowing what was happening? Have you been stumbling and falling, as you walk in the dark?

I remember one summer, maybe about ten years ago. Me and my friend used to go for long walks in the summer, out on the country roads round Dromore. One sunny summer’s night, we decided we would go for a walk out round by where my family used to live, where my grandparents had lived, and my dad grew up. I knew it was a couple of miles out of town, and so we set off. Eventually we got there, and passed the house. Being young, and enthusiastic, we decided we would walk on, and do a loop, coming back into Dromore a different route. And so we walked, and walked, and walked. The route home was much longer. But it was also getting dark. Eventually, we couldn’t see too far in front of us, and by the time we got back to the town, the streetlights were on. That certainly taught me a lesson about needing lights to see where we were going, and I haven’t tried that walk again in the evening!

We needed a light for the journey, to see where we were going, to pick out the road. Jesus comes to us today, and says, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness.’ So will you follow him? Will you come to walk with him in his light?

Jesus does more than just say the negative. He also gives us the positive promise. ‘Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’ When we follow Jesus, when we come to believe in him, he brings the light of life.

Earlier we noted the connection of darkness with sin, and with sin comes death. But when Jesus, the light of the world comes, he promises the light of life. As the commentator Bruce points out, ‘In the first creation, “darkness was over the surface of the deep” (Gen 1:2) until God called light into being, so the new creation involves the banishing of spiritual darkness by the light which shines in the Word’ (i.e. Jesus. Bruce, The Gospel of John, p. 33).

Remember, Jesus said these words at the Feast of Tabernacles, as the Jews recalled the pillar of fire taking them out of the land of Egypt. Earlier we thought of God’s presence with them. But that light was also their salvation – taking them from the darkness of Egypt (where one of the ten plagues had been darkness), to the light of life in their own land. In the same way, Jesus, the light of the world, has shone into the darkness, bringing salvation to those who will see his light and trust in him. It is as we trust in him, that we have the light of life, walking with him, and enjoying eternal life with him.

If we move to the book of Revelation, we find the new Jerusalem, our dwelling place for eternity. And we find these words: ‘The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the nations will bring their splendour into it’ (Rev 21:23-24), and ‘There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light’ (Rev 22:5). The light of the world shines in glory forever, being the only light we need.

But what about the meantime? Jesus is the light of the world, but he is now in heaven. Does the world now have no light? In 9:5, Jesus says that ‘While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’ So is the world in darkness now that Jesus is in heaven? Has he left us without a light? By no means! As we read in Matthew 5:14, he tells his disciples, ‘You are the light of the world.’ Just as Jesus was the light of the world, so he sends us also to be light of the world, as we witness in our workplaces, and homes, and schools to him.

Jesus said: ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’ Are you in darkness today? Come to Jesus, the light of the world. Are you stumbling in the darkness of sin, or confusion, distress? Come to Jesus, and you will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. And as you follow him, shine for him, pointing the way for others who are still in darkness.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Remainder of Synod

So I talked the other day about the first day of Synod... but what about the rest of it? As has been discussed on the Church of Ireland Email Forum, Synod was a bit quiet this year, possibly because of the announcement of 'the big man' relating to his retirement. There were some interesting, if very short debates on subjects including the Masonic, the ARCIC Mary Document, the Windsor Report, and Ministry in the church.

Rather worrying was the debate on the Masonic, though. The Standing Committee of the Church had produced a statement, which was in the Book of Reports, and went as follows:

"The Honorary Secretaries recognise that the religious aspect of Freemasonry, as far as we can tell, does not equate with the fullness of the Christian teaching of the Church of Ireland. Notwithstanding this recognition, the Honorary Secretaries believe that membership of, and participation in, Freemasonry is a matter of free choice and conscience ofr members of the Church of Ireland."

Brian Blacoe was quick to point out that not only are its aspects different from the teaching of the Church, that the Committee should have gone further, in condemining the order outright. He quoted from a hymn, sung at the meetings, which praised masonry as divine, and elevated King Hiram to the highest place.

Two speakers (I didn't know who they were), then got up and stated that they were members of the order, that there was nothing wrong with it because you had to believe in 'a superior being' to join, and that there was unity in the lodge room between Christians, Jews, Muslims and other theists, and that it enabledthem to be a better Christian. Because, after all, we all believe in the one God, and there was respect among the members who were on 'different pathways.'

My respects go to David McClay, rector of Willowfield who immediately got up to rebuke them, asking was this house not Christian, and if so, did we not believe Jesus when he said 'I am the way and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father, except by me'? I almost got up myself, but David got there first and said what needed to be said.

That was possibly the most interesting of the debates, but, as in so many, there was no resolution or proper debate - the chairman simply called time and wanted to move on. And that was General Synod 2006. Next year's event is in Kilkenny, so it will be a bit of a holiday, and my first time as far south in Ireland - unless I make it down there between now and then.

And the day after General Synod finished, what arrived in the mail, only the notification for the Diocesan Synod, to be held in Moira near the end of June. So we have that to look forward to!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Synod Stuff

The General Synod of the Church of Ireland opened this morning in Armagh. The big news of the day was Archbishop Eames announcing his retirement, which will take effect on 31st December 2006. It was really interesting watching the Synod Chamber this morning. We had arrived at about 10.55am for an 11am start, but due to a huge number of people present, including media types and visitors, couldn't get a seat. So there was me and Alan, standing at the back. It meant we had an excellent view, though, being sort of eyeline height with the bishops on the platform.

The President's speech was going on for a bit, dealing with a variety of topics (e.g. Northern Ireland politics, Education, Ministry Training etc), and the three media cameramen and three photographers were prowling like tigers around the room, up and down the aisles taking random shots and shooting footage. Until 'the moment'. It was heralded by Eames saying that he was ordained deacon in 1963... and then it happened. Suddenly, all the media people moved very quickly to in front of the platform to get the moment on tape. And there it was. He has announced his retirement, and the search begins for the next Archbishop of Armagh. Who could it be???

The rest of the day was taken up with the seemingly confusing processing of Bills, Resolutions and Motions, and then the Reports began, from various agencies and groups of the church.

Tonight's highlight was the Synod Service, in Armagh Cathedral. Being an ordinand can sometimes be a bit of a strange experience, in terms of the new level of connectedness or independence from our sending parish. But tonight the ordinands were given some recognition (of sorts), being included in the Procession at the service. In fact, we were the lowest of the low, at the very front of the procession, but when we got to the Chancel, we had some of the best seats in the house (or cathedral), being behind the bishops, right at the Communion Rail. The Communion service lasted 1 hour and 45 minutes in total, but the organ and choir were very good.

I was also really pleased to have the opportunity to meet and talk to Dr Harry Uprichard, the Moderator of the Presbyterian General Assembly. He was one of the ecumenical visitors in the procession, and we all ended up in the Chapter Room after the service (where a certain Bishop from the deep south got shocked by the loudness of the organ with all stops out!), so I made a bee-line for him! I told him about how I had enjoyed his books, and encouraged him to keep at it! It also appears that he has a new book coming out, when he manages to get some time to write - seemingly it is a busy time being Moderator.

So that was Day One of my first Synod. And back tomorrow for Day Two for more reports etc...

Sunday, May 07, 2006


So there we are... the end of a great weekend, made even better by me not having to drive to Dublin tonight! And what a busy weekend it was... including a trip to Dublin Zoo - which was really good, with no hills to climb (as you do in Belfast), and lots of animals; a trip to Newcastle, with its Free P bookshop and its new pedestrian bridge along the promenade/coast walk; dinner in Magherafelt; church at the Presbyterians this morning; and then leaving Lyns off at the airport.

All in all, a great weekend!

This week coming in I'm not going to Dublin, as I'll be at the Church of Ireland General Synod from Tuesday to Thursday. This is sort of the parliament of the church, which meets each year to hear reports, pass bills and make the laws of the church. For more information, you might want to check out the Synod website.

So the challenge then is to do some revision on Monday and Friday, so that the week isn't completely lost... I wonder how much I'll actually get done!

Friday, May 05, 2006

I'm loving angels instead... or so it seems.

I don't buy the Sunday papers. I don't buy things on a Sunday, period, because I don't want to break the Lord's Day/Sabbath. But the Sunday papers come into our house, so that occasionally I have a glance at them if I get a moment or there's something of interest later in the week - because, in my mind anyway, they could have been got after Sunday by then, so I can read them. However, this posting isn't about my strange notion on Sunday papers, but rather about something I noticed in the Sunday World these past two weeks.

In their centre pages, they ran a 2 week 8-page per week special report on 'Ulster's fast growing religion' - Angelology. Rather interesting reading. The reports contained within suggest that by getting on contact with your guardian angel, you can harness their positive energy for your spiritual life. A particular talent of the angels appears to be finding parking spaces when it's raining and you need to stop outside a shop - that could turn out handy enough.

You're also encouraged to get in touch with your guardian angel, to learn their name, because they will provide guidance in your life, and let them bear burdens for you. There then follows reports on the four main archangels, and their particular specialities.

So, am I now loving angels instead? Am I believer? Not at all!

As the Bible says, 'there is nothing new under the sun.' (Ecclesiastes 1:9). This twisted interest in angels is not new - we find similar things going on with the false teaching being countered in Colossae - as Paul writes 'Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in details about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head.' (Colossians 2:18-19).

You see, I'm not having a go at the whole thing about angels because I think they don't exist. Angels do exist. Fact. Check out Luke chapter one if you don't believe me - Gabriel was a busy angel, visiting first Zechariah and then Mary with messages from God. But rather, my problem with the 'angel religion' is that it misses the whole point of what angels are here to do.

The very word 'angel' comes from the Greek word which can mean both 'angel' and 'messenger'. Angels are the messengers of God, who serve him day and night in heaven. So in one sense, they are just servants of God, as we are. Now, it does seem that there are such things as guardian angels - those specifically tasked to look out for people. I'm thinking particularly of the incident when Peter was miraculously released from prison by an angel (Acts 12). When Peter goes to the door of Mary's house, and Rhoda goes to the door and tells them that Peter is standing at the door, they don't believe her, saying 'It is his angel!' (Acts 12:15). Now perhaps they meant that a messenger from Peter was standing there, but if they meant angel, then it is interesting to note their response. They didn't go out to worship the angel, or to invite their guidance and help.

However, my main problem with the angel worshippers is that they get the wrong end of the stick entirely. Angels, the messengers of God, never proclaimed themselves. They only served God, proclaiming His word, and their focus was always to point the people they meet towards God. And do you know what? Those preaching angels should have a wee read at Hebrews 1 and 2. There, the writer clearly demonstrates how much Jesus is superior to the angels. 'After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs' (Heb 1:3-4).

Jesus is superior because he is the Son of God (Heb 1:5 cf Ps 2:7, 2 Sam 7:14), worshipped by the angels (Heb 1:6 cf Deut 32:43), given the throne (Heb 1:8-12 cf Ps 45:6,7; Ps 102:25-27), and told to sit at God's right hand until his enemies are his footstool (Heb 1:13 cf Ps 110:1). Not to denigrate angels, but Heb 1:14 show their purpose and role in the cosmos - not to be worshipped, but rather: 'Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?' But angels only serve the elect when they are pointing towards Christ, not themselves.

So how do we react to this trend in society? Do we see it as a great opportunity to reach out to these people who are obviously hungering spiritually for something, but have grasped the wrong end of the stick? Let's hope, though, that we don't get caught up in it, and get led astray from the true focus of the gospel, which is Jesus Christ - who alone bears our burdens, is our guide, and provides all that we need in life.

Two words of warning remain for us. The first is to watchfulness, because 'even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light' (2 Corinthians 11:14), and so we must watch to not be deceived. But even more important is the guiding principle of accepting the true gospel, as we have received from the apostles and their successors - 'But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.' (Galatians 1:8)

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Revision Week One

So here we are, halfway through the first week of revision, and so far, I have done nothing! But there are very good reasons for it...

Monday past was a Bank Holiday in both Ireland and the UK, so I had decided I would spend it at home, with the family, probably go away somewhere, and that I would then return to Dublin that evening or Tuesday morning. So when I was coming home on Sunday, I left all my notes and stuff in college. That way, I could take the good of the holiday and not think about work.

An excellent plan. Until Sunday night, when I couldn't sleep due to a sore throat, sore head, and lots of phlegm. So Monday was spent in bed, rather than away with the family. I was so not well! Yesterday I was a bit better, and was able to get up and dressed, and even made it out to Tesco in the evening for a quick few messages. I probably could have done some revision, or at least got my files in shape. But as I say, all my stuff was in Dublin. So no work done.

And so we come to today - I had resolved that I would come back down and get cracking, but it hasn't happened so far. The lie-in until 11 couldn't have helped, then I had a message to do in Lisburn, and called into ICM on the way. So anyway, I got into college at about 4pm, and put all my notes into the correct files, but then we had the Communion service, and dinner. So still no proper revision done. I resolve to start now!!!

But first, I'll tell you about Sunday night. I was over at Magheralin, and enjoyed the opportunity of being there without being 'dressed up and sitting at the front.' It was great being a member of the congregation - until Gareth utilised me for prayer ministry at the end. But I didn't mind that! Going over there also meant that I got to see baby Annabelle again - and even got to hold her [by the way, Gareth, I hope she's doing ok and didn't catch anything off me on Sunday night?]. Annabelle is extremely advanced for her age - as is fitting the offspring of Gareth - and has her own blog, which you can visit by clicking: Annabelle.