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!

Friday, November 30, 2007

A Truly Mobile Phone

A Truly Mobile Phone
Originally uploaded by Gary McMurray.

As seen on Grafton Street in Dublin recently.

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.


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


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!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Do Not Worry! A sermon from Dromore High School Harvest Thanksgiving on Monday 22 October 2007. Matthew 6:25-34

I wonder if you have any worries today? Anything you’re concerned about? I won’t ask you to put your hand up if you are worried about anything, because I’m sure it’s quite a few of us.

I don’t want to make you worry, but some of the things you might be worrying about could be: spots, boys or girls, your looks, your parents, your exams, whether your friends like you, your health…

Even Mr Wilkinson will be worried about a few things. Maybe not about his hairstyle these days, but he will be concerned about some things!

In the Bible reading we heard earlier, we hear what Jesus says about worry. Here’s what he said – ‘do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is life not more important than food, and the body than clothes?’ (6:25)

As we’ll see, Jesus says that you don’t have to worry about things that come up in our life. The reason not to worry is because of God, our Father. We don’t have to worry because God values us, and because God already knows what we need!

So let’s look at what Jesus says about how valuable we are. ‘Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?’ (6:26)

Jesus is saying that God cares more about us than he does about the birds of the air, and because he cares, he will provide us with what we need. Did you ever see a bird sowing seed and growing its own food? Did you ever see a bird worrying about the price of things in Tesco?

So if God provides for the birds of the air without them doing anything to help themselves, then how much more will God care for us, and provide for our needs?

In Psalm 50, God reminds us that he owns the cattle on a thousand hills; (Psalm 50:10) and to expand that vision, Psalm 24 tells us that ‘the earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.’ (Psalm 24:1). Can you see that God rules over all, and that because God rules over all, then he can provide for your needs?

Jesus then goes on to talk about worrying about clothes. Who doesn’t worry about clothes? I’ll let you into a secret – this morning when I was getting ready I worried about my clothes – what would I wear today? Should I go for jeans, or for the suit? But as we’ll see, Jesus says that we don’t have to worry about our clothes.

‘And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?’ (Matt 6:28-30)

Do you know something? I really love harvest time, as the leaves change colour and start to drop off the trees. Down in Dublin last week I was like a big child kicking the leaves and hearing them crunch. Or just pause and look around you today. Look at the variety of colours and textures and even flavours (but don’t eat the apples!). In all these things, we see how much God provides for his creation.

In Genesis, we read of the beginnings of the world, and after every time that God creates something, it says this – ‘And God saw that it was good’ (Gen 1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25), and then at the end of the creation, it says that ‘God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.’ (Gen 1:31)

Without worrying, without stressing, the flowers are clothed with amazing colours. They don’t have to do anything about it, they just have to be.

Who would you say is the most fashionable person in the world? If you had to pick someone who was the best dressed, who would it be? Maybe Victoria Beckham, or one of the supermodels? The example Jesus uses was King Solomon. Solomon had been king of Israel about 1000 years before, and had lived in luxury. We read in 2 Chronicles 9 that ‘King Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth.’ And elsewhere in 2 Chronicles that he made silver as common as stones in Jerusalem, and owned fourteen hundred chariots.

Yet, Jesus says that the lilies of the field are better dressed than Solomon, who must have spent thousands on his clothes. So if God makes sure the lilies are looking well, then how much more will he look after us and provide clothes for us?

So far we’ve heard what Jesus tells us not to do. He has told us not to worry, because God cares for us, and because God knows what we need. But at the end of the passage we read, Jesus turns it around, and tells us to do something else in its place.

What happens when you worry about something? If you’re anything like me, then you’ll think about something over and over again. You’ll try to solve the problem, and look at it lots of different ways. Your mind will be like a washing machine, turning it around and around. You might not even be able to sleep if you keep thinking about your worries.

When we worry, we make our problems bigger. It makes us think that we have to solve it all ourselves. [But you don’t have to solve it yourself. Talk to a friend, or someone else who can help you.]

Instead, Jesus calls us to trust in God. We don’t have to worry about things like boys or spots or clothes, if we have faith that God knows what we need, that he loves us and that he will provide for us. So what to do instead of worrying?

Jesus says that it’s a matter of getting our priorities right. Here’s what he says. ‘So do not worry, saying “What shall we eat?” or “what shall we drink?” or “what shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.’ (6:31-33)

We don’t have to worry about food or clothes or anything else. Instead, we’re called to trust our Father – God knows what we need. Because he knows what we need, he can provide it for us. But what does it mean to seek first his kingdom?

Earlier we read from Psalm 24 that the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it. God created the world, and is the king. The choice for us, then, is whether we will recognise him as king – as our king, or live in rebellion against him.

Will you live for God, living the way he wants you to? The promise is there in Jesus’ words that when we live for God, then God provides for us – ‘all these things will be given to you as well.’

As we’ve seen today, Jesus calls us not to worry, because God knows what we need, and will provide for us. Later on in the Bible, Paul writes in Philippians these words: ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.’ (Phil 4:6-7).

Jesus says – do not worry… but seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Back to School

Now that I'm back in Dublin, I've had a chance to reflect on my day - the day when I went back to my old school. Well, ok, not the school itself, but the school gathered in the cathedral for its harvest thanksgiving service. It is ten years since I left Dromore High School with a few GCSE's, and I was asked to speak at the harvest service today - this being their 50th anniversary year.

I wasn't sure how it would go, but looking back, I have to say I really enjoyed it! Despite there being a good turnover of teachers in the ten years of my absence, there were still quite a few that I remembered, and that remembered me! Teachers like Miss Uprichard, Miss Trimble, Mr Wright, Mr Todd and Mr Todd (science and computers both), Mr Cousins, Mr Hendron, Mrs Houston, Mrs McCalmont, Mrs Brown, Mrs Cooper, Mrs McKnight, Mr Currie, Mrs Storey and a few others as well! It was nice seeing them again, and catching up with them.

It was also great seeing Mr Wilkinson, the headmaster, or as he'll soon be known, 'uncle John'. This was the first time he'd heard me speak, so fair play to him for giving me the opportunity!

I've been trying to remember back to when I was at the school, to the annual services in the cathedral at Harvest and Christmas, and can only recall three of them - and always the carol services! The first, in my first year when I sang a solo, and got some of the 5th years into detention when they laughed at me (with the vice-principal sitting behind them!); in fourth year when I led the carol service; and fifth year when me, Gordon Bingham and (who was the other person? - I don't think it was Christopher Somerville) sang a trio. So I couldn't even remember how the harvest services had gone in the past.

Slightly scary, having over 500 people listening, all watching, but really good at the same time - a great opportunity to speak the word of God into their lives. I'll get the sermon text up tomorrow when I have some time.

One final thought. This morning when I was getting dressed, I went for my navy pin-stripe suit. The only shirt to go with it was my light blue shirt. The tie that went with it was a navy tie with lighter blue stripes. Whether subconsciously or what, I ended up virtually dressed in the High School uniform... talk about regressing to school days!

Harvest Time

Swiss Roll
Originally uploaded by Gary McMurray.

On Saturday I was out at Tullylish with mum at the family graves, and noticed the swiss rolls in the next field. Harvest is here, once again God's promise has been kept, that seedtime and harvest will not fail.

This afternoon I'm preaching at the Dromore High School harvest thanksgiving service in the Cathedral, and to be honest, I'm slightly nervous. Ten years on, going back to my old school. Will let you know how it goes...

Saturday, October 20, 2007

New Prayer Letter

Dear friends, 16 October 2007

How quickly time flies! At the start of the holidays, it seemed that the four months would stretch forever, but here I am, sitting at my desk in Dublin again, into the fourth week of term!

The summer was a busy one for me – the Sundays in July and the start of August saw me travelling to various places to preach and take services. I really enjoyed being in Dundonald, Annalong, and the Dromores (both Tyrone and Down!). Then in August, I travelled out to Romania to work with the Smiles Foundation – a challenging and life-changing time. I’ll be sharing more about my time in Romania in Dromore Cathedral on Sunday 4th November.

We’re now back into the swing of things in Dublin, but already it seems like we’re counting down the days until we finish – the end is in sight! Particular challenges that lie ahead include the joys of cosmology and ecclesiology, as well as the writing of a 10,000-word dissertation. The main thing on the horizon, though, is the Curacy List.

Come the end of November, the House of Bishops will publish the list of vacancies for Curates, and then the interview and appointment process begins. I’m a bit nervous about the whole process, given that Lynsey has to apply for jobs at roughly the same time – and we would like to be working somewhere near each other! It’s a test of our faith, but we are confident that God knows what He is doing and it will all work out.

This year also contains another parish placement, working on Fridays and Sundays to combine the pastoral and preaching functions. I’ll be working in Drumgath and Drumgooland Parishes (Rathfriland and Ballyward), with David Somerville.

Please pray for the following concerns:

- For the new students in college, and for the returning ones as we settle into college life and build up the life of the community

- For Lynsey and me as we prepare for marriage despite being so far apart – that we will continue to deepen our relationship

- For the Curacy List and Lynsey’s job applications

- For the Smiles Foundation and Kevin Hoy, their leader, as they serve the people of Romania and reach out with the gospel

- For the people of Drumgath and Drumgooland and their rector, David as I come among them

- For freshness in devotions, and that I will stay close to God through the challenges of this year

Thank you for your prayers and support through the past year. Be assured that you are in my prayers, as you pray for me. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20).

With God’s richest blessings

Friday, October 12, 2007

In the Presence of Royalty

Blue Lights
Originally uploaded by Gary McMurray.

On Tuesday when Carmen and myself went down into Trinity, we noticed there were a lot of TCD security guards about the place, with an area of the quadrangle cordoned off. In fact, in that area, there was a wee man hoovering the leaves off the cobblestones.

The tricolour was flying from the top of Regent House - the main building - and the Belgian flag was flying at one side of it. After a few enquiries, we discovered that the King and Queen of Belgium were going to be visiting Trinity College Dublin later in the day. So we hung about for a while before the lecture, but time defeated us, and into New Testament we went.

During the class, I heard a few sirens going off and thought that they had come and gone. But when we left the class, lo and behold, they hadn't yet visited! So we waited about to see what would happen. We got the best afternoon's craic watching what happened.

From the TCD security guards moving their barriers every few minutes, to them being unable to give clear instructions on the diversion around the post-grad library, to the small group of students organised to give a welcome to the guests - the students being dressed in black, yellow and red, and standing in the appropriate order!

After about 40 minutes, we saw the 6 Garda outriders, and the 8 or 10 big black cars of their convoy sped through the main square at Trinity and up to the doors of the Old Library, where the King and Queen were to see the Book of Kells.

The photo I got of their car has been uploaded to Flickr, but you can't actually see them, so I used the above photo instead! But it made me think. Us plebs, the ordinary people, were kept back by Garda (the police) and by security guards, while the high ranking people got to have a few minutes with the royals.

What a contrast to the King of Kings, who was known as the 'friend of sinners', who came to serve, not to be served, who took the time to answer the needs of Bartimaeus!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Conker Showing

Conker Showing
Originally uploaded by Gary McMurray.

Spotted this conker lying in the grounds of Drumbo Presbyterian Church last weekend. Now we know that the autumn is here. Might just come in handy for a children's talk on Sunday morning in Ballyward!

Harry Potter

Well, I've eventually finished reading the final Harry Potter book - Harry and the Deathly Hallows. Not going to say too much about it as I wouldn't want to ruin it for anyone else. Contrary to some of the popular opinion about it, I think I quite liked it, and didn't predict how it would end up. There were a few deaths, but not as many as I had thought. Such a pity!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Spiritual Blogging

I've been asked (like Robert) to talk about blogging in class tomorrow. The class title is Spirituality for Today, and I'll be looking at the similarities and differences between blogging and journalling. At the moment I'm not entirely sure how spiritual an activity blogging is - especially some of the stuff I write about - but I'm having a think about it and will share my findings later on!

Friday, October 05, 2007

Glasses of Grace: Judges 6:1-18

I have a lot of sympathy with Gideon. He had a down to earth, grounded in reality view of himself. God shows up and says "The LORD is with you, O mighty man of valour" and Gideon's reaction is who, me?

I've been reading through the book of Judges, and have come to the time of Gideon. The Midianites have swamped the country, destroying crops and lives, and the people of Israel have taken to living in caves. Into the midst of the problem, the angel of the LORD appears to Gideon, greeting him with those words - "The LORD is with you, O mighty man of valour."

Gideon, however, launches into a historical, political, theological diatribe. What are you talking about - how can God be with us if the Midianites have taken over? He has heard the stories of how God acted in the past to rescue Israel from Egypt, but where is God now?

The answer? Right in front of you, Gideon! So again, the angel of the LORD sends him. "Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?"

Gideon still knows his own weakness and says in effect: Don't you realise that I'm the lowest and the least - in terms of tribe and clan and family? If our tribe were picking teams in the playground, my family would be last picked.

The amazing thing is that while Gideon trembles, God looks on him through the eyes of grace, seeing what he will be. Not so much rose-tinted spectacles, but maybe 'glasses of grace'. By God's great grace, he will be the mighty man of valour. When the call is given, it's as if the battle has already been won. He just has to go in God's power.

Do you know what? Just as God saw Gideon through the 'glasses of grace', so he also sees us already perfected in Christ, through his grace. This is the heart of our justification - counted righteous in Christ, as God looks on us and sees Christ.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

10,000 not out!

Just a quick note to observe that my photo site at Flickr has now exceeded 10,000 views. Incredible! I've only properly been using it since January, and currently have over 2000 photos on display. Check it out if you haven't seen them before, or even if you have.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Student Reader

Through my time at college, there are new places to go and new things to do. This morning was one such. For third year, I'm going to be working as a Student Reader in the grouped parishes of Drumgath and Drumgooland. All the D's (to go with Dromore, Dublin and Dundee). Drum where, you might be asking. Drumgooland Parish Church is in the village of Ballyward, between Banbridge and Castlewellan, and Drumgath Parish Church is in the town of Rathfriland. Mourne Country.

While my placement hasn't started yet, I was down with the two congregations this morning to see how the service works and to be introduced to the people. Both great wee churches, and I'm looking forward to working there. It was harvest thanksgiving in Ballyward, and the choir were in fine form, leading us in giving thanks for the bountiful harvest.

Please pray for David, their rector, and the people as I come among them to labour for the gospel. Oh, and on that note, I'll hopefully have a new prayer letter available soon, maybe even this week!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Week One Done

There's the first week finished at college, just another 1 pre-term week, 22 term weeks, 3 study weeks, and 2 weeks of exams. Oh, and the holidays in between those at Christmas and Easter. And that will be it done!

It's been strange being back - after four months of holidays, it's funny being back and seeing everyone again. And, of course, meeting the newcomers. A great bunch, all in, and we've been having some good laughs already. It's amazing how quickly you adapt back into the college routine - the chapel services, the meals, the hot chocolate, patrolling the corridors late on. It soon comes back to you.

We were looking at marriage all week. As I said in my feedback, the good thing is it hasn't put me off! Such a lot of stuff to take in though; I found the week quite long and very tiring. Next week is going to be the Youth Ministry week - should be a bit of craic!

Oh - while I'm on, remember the Tileagd Children's Choir concert in Richhill Presbyterian Church on Saturday night, starting at 7.30pm.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Fall

I'm reading 'Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners' by John Bunyan at present. A haunting description and testimony of the doubts that afflicted him for many years, and how God graciously worked in his life, through His Word to confirm his faith. These few words struck me about the depth and tragedy of the fall:

Man indeed is the most noble by creation of all creatures in the visible world, but by sin he has made himself the most ignoble.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Dublin Again

Well folks, it's hard to believe, but here I am writing from Dublin, getting settled into my new room in college, starting my final year! It's been a busy day, from church this morning in Dromore, to getting packed up, driving down to Dublin (the new dual carriageway A1 and extension to the M1 is very handy), welcoming the new students and catching up with people, assisting at the Communion service, eating dinner, getting my room sorted, and enjoying the first hot chocolate of the new term!

Tomorrow we launch into the first pre-term week, spending the week on the Marriage module. Should be interesting, and all the more important for me as we're less than ten months away from the wedding now! As we'll be looking at marriage - please pray for me and Lynsey as we prepare for married life together.

I'll update more on my return to college as time permits. For the time being, I'm just chuffed that I have internet access in my room. Sometimes it's a bit slow, but we'll not complain about that!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Careers Advice?

The only item in my post this morning was a big brown envelope that had come the whole way from Dublin. Wondering what it could be, I quickly opened it. What did I find inside? The latest edition of the Trinity Careers Advisory Service newsletter for final year students!

I wonder if Trinity is trying to tell me something? Let's hope I don't need the careers advice, because I find a Curacy in the coming months!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Making More Smiles

Just a bit of information about the concerts coming up, organised by the Smiles Foundation. The Tileagd Children's Choir will be in concert next weekend in N0rthern Ireland - Enniskillen (Cathedral Hall?) on Thursday 27th; Terrace Row Presbyterian in Coleraine on Friday 28th; and Richhill Presbyterian on Saturday 29th.

Tickets are £5, and the concerts start at 7.30pm (except Coleraine which is at 8pm).

For more information, click here.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Sligo and the Marble Arches

Went off on the final fling of the summer - an overnight road trip to Sligo with Stewart. A really enjoyable couple of days of exploring, getting lost with the poor road signs, and talking theology. Among the places we visited was the grave of WB Yeats at Drumcliffe, the Spanish Armada memorial, and Parkes Castle on the shores of Lough Gill.

The highlight for me, though, was when we crossed the border again. It was my first time visiting the Marble Arch Caves in County Fermanagh, and I definitely want to go back some time. Sadly the boat trip part of the tour was off, due to the rising flood water, but the walking bit of the tour was still impressive. What an amazing sight, especially the bits where you could see the reflection of the stalactites in the calm water of the river.

Photos will shortly be available on Flickr - I'm slowly getting them up onto the site. In the meantime, it's just four days until my return to Dublin. Here we go for final year!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

A House of Prayer or a Den of Robbers?

When I'm on my travels, I always try to visit a church or two. Call it almost a professional interest, if you want. I'm always fascinated to see how things are laid out, to read the monuments and plaques, to visit the graveyard and to take in the history of the place.

On my most recent visit to Scotland I was able to take in Dunblane and Glasgow Cathedrals, as well as Rosslyn Chapel, and St Monan's Church. There may well have been more, but I can't think of them at the minute. At Rosslyn, the first thing you encounter is a wee hut with a till inside. To gain entry, you have to part with some hard cash (or if you don't have cash, they'll take your credit card). In one sense, I suppose this is fair enough - most museums have an entry charge, and Rosslyn to me was as much a museum as anything else. Indeed, the two cathedrals in Dublin also charge you an entrance fee.

So it was refreshing to visit Dunblane Cathedral and then Glasgow Cathedral and discover that there are no tills at the door refusing entry unless you pay, no high profile demands for money. Instead, they have a few discrete signs up saying how much it costs to keep the cathedrals open, and a wee box in which to put any donations.

What are we saying about our faith if the first thing we do when visitors come is to confront them with a till and a demand for money? Are we saying in deed (if not in word) that money is the most important thing for us in the life of the church?

Whenever I visit a meeting house with a till at the door I'm reminded of the actions of Jesus when he went to the Temple. 'And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not let anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, "Is it not written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations'? But you have made it a den of robbers."' (Mark 11:15-17)

Maybe if we didn't charge into our historic church buildings where tourists want to visit, we would have a better evangelistic witness about our faith, and be more able to speak to them of Jesus. At least they wouldn't have their focus on the lightness of their wallets and purses!

Friday, September 14, 2007


Rosslyn Chapel Undercover
Originally uploaded by Gary McMurray.

As I mentioned the other day, I was hoping to go to Rosslyn Chapel when I was in Edinburgh. And so I made it, navigating the road system around the city and heading southwards. Into the car park, and up towards the chapel.

And there, as the chapel came into view I was astounded by the view that confronted me. Expecting the scenic church seen in the Da Vinci Code movie, instead I saw the above view - a big steel structure over the chapel.

The tour guide told us that it is to protect the old stonework from the effects of water damage. The conservation project has been going on for about ten years so far, and is nowhere near finished.

To be honest, the chapel was a bit disappointing. It's quite small, and not as ornate or interesting as it had seemed before I went. Plus, the entry fee was a bit steep. For me, the only good bit was the views from the walkway along the steel structure (which can be seen running the length of the chapel).

Think i might blog later on charging to get into churches...

Home again

Another swift week, and another Travel Thursday - the third in a row. The week in Scotland was great, but much too short. As you'll see from my photos, I did a bit of touring about while in Scotland and enjoyed the time with Lyns.

I eventually managed to finish reading Richard Dawkins' 'The Blind Watchmaker'. Took me two whole weeks to get through it, which is slow for me. Some interesting stuff, but I think he convinced me of the truth of designed creation by the Creator God, rather than any form of evolution. And given the fact that he only gives about three paragraphs on one of the last pages of the book to try and disprove a designed creation, he doesn't really convince.

So one week until college, and to mark the time, I'm going on a roadtrip with Stewart for a couple of days. Heading out to the wild west (Sligo) so it'll be good theology discussions and some relaxation; as well as seeing a new part of the country. More updates and photos to follow!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A fruitful church

Originally uploaded by Gary McMurray.

The other day I was out in Invergowrie, a smaller village near to Dundee. One of my heroes, Robert Murray M'Cheyne, used to ride out to the ruins of an old church to sit and pray, to 'come apart for a while and rest'. The ruins themselves are now overgrown and gated to prevent people getting in, but the thing I noticed was the huge amount of blackberries growing there.

Perhaps it struck me more forcefully than normal, because the previous night I had been talking to Bryan about developing fruitful churches. Is this the sort of fruitful church I want to be part of - just ruins, and only producing blackberries? Or the fruitful church where lives are changed and hearts won through the preaching of God's Word; where the fruit of the Spirit is seen to be increasing in the lives of the congregation; where we move outwards in culturally relevant engagement with the world; the fruitful church which only comes about through abiding in Jesus (John 15).

I know which one I want, and it doesn't involve blackberries!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Number Nine

Just a quick note to say that I am amazed and astounded that my humble blog has made it into a Top Ten list. As part of the soon to be released book, Guide to Political Blogging 2007, Iain Dale is also including many other Top Ten UK Blog lists.

Archbishop Cranmer has rightly been afforded Number One - his writings are always interesting. And according to the list on Dale's blog, I am in there at Number Nine!

A big thank you to whoever it was who nominated the blog in the first place, and for those who decided the final list. I suppose this now puts a bit of pressure on me to have inspired and inspiring post - we'll see what happens!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Dundee again

Tay Road Bridge
Originally uploaded by Gary McMurray.

It's now Sunday afternoon and I'm just realising I haven't blogged since Wednesday - that might explain the panic attacks and cold sweat I had! As I said in my last posting, I was coming to Dundee, and here I am! The weather up to today has been really good - so good that I was disappointed I hadn't brought my shorts.

Having the car this time means I can go and explore a bit more - on Friday we went off to St Andrew's, and took this photo just after crossing the Tay Road Bridge. The view is looking back towards Dundee City across the River Tay. Normally when I come to Dundee, it rains, so I have to say, when it isn't raining it's quite a nice place!

I'm planning a few more days of touring while here before returning home on Thursday - possibly even making it to Roslyn Chapel (which was featured in the Da Vinci Code) and Edinburgh.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007


A week is a long time in politics, but such a short time at home! The week that Lyns and me have had at home is coming to an end, as we head off to bonny Scotland in the morning. Families have been visited and news caught up on. So here goes on the final year at college for both of us - Lyns starting a bit earlier than me - I still have a couple of weeks off.

I haven't gotten back into the swing of the blog since coming home, but I'm sure I will as the routine starts up again. Keep checking back for some news and reviews, and the odd sermon, when I have my new college placement started. On that front, I was chatting to a rector today so things are getting sorted on that front. More news when I know for sure!

Right, gotta go pack and then get to sleep. Taking the car this time so it's an early start for the Larne boat.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Romania Update 3

Dear friends,

Sorry that it has taken me so long to email again with an update from Romania. Things were busy and I didn't get back to the office for internet. When I returned to Dromore again on Thursday, my internet wasn't working there either!

Firstly, I want to thank you for all your prayers and support over the past couple of weeks. It has been encouraging to know that people are praying for me and the work out in Romania. I hope that you will continue to remember the work of the Smiles Foundation in your prayers in the weeks and months to come - and maybe even go on a trip yourself some time soon!

So what all did I get up to in the remainder of my time? On one day, we had a tour of the Tileagd Community School, meeting some of the teachers and pupils who came to school during their summer holidays! The pupils are so keen to learn and to go to school that they don't like holidays, so during the summer the school operates 'summer school' on two days of the week. We then moved on to the Gypsy village in Tileagd, before visiting a psychiatric hospital in Bratca. The patients have been in medical care practically since birth, most being abandoned due to physical or mental disability. They simply wanted to play with someone, which we did!

Another day it was like being on the set of 'Changing Rooms' - we cleaned and painted an elderly man's house, bringing transformation to his one-roomed dwelling. The paint that day was blue, and on a different day, I was covered in yellow paint as I helped work on the nursery in Tileagd, inside and out. (But I wouldn't call on me for any home decorating jobs, if I was you!)

Several days were in the Children's Centre in Cihei, helping to put smiles on the faces of the children there - and also digging out a sandpit for them to play in (although it seemed they were happy enough playing in the hole, before any sand came!)

Ours was the last mission trip of the summer, but the work of Smiles continues - with the social workers still providing food and clothing aid; the school and nursery units teaching kids; the Children's Centre developing young children; the emergency housing unit providing shelter for those left homeless; and the kingdom advancing in the Community Church in Tileagd.

Please pray for Kevin, and all the staff of Smiles as they struggle to make difficult decisions about the allocation of funds, and in all they do. Pray also for the mission trippers as we share with friends the news about Smiles and seek to support them in their vital work.

In three weeks time I will (DV) be back in Dublin for the start of the new year - my final year in college! More prayer updates will follow. If you prefer not to receive these emails, please letme know.


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Monday, September 03, 2007

There is power, power...!

Last week we got a card through the door from the Electric people (I imagine them being plugged into the socket...) saying that there would be essential maintenance works going on in Dromore today, and that as a result, our electric would be turned off between the hours of 8am and 7.30pm. When I heard about it, I immediately thought of all the things that couldn't be done without power - no TV, no internet etc.

Then this morning I was lying half awake in bed when it struck me. With no electric, the shower wouldn't work either! I would be unclean, or maybe worse, half-washed with flannels from the sink. Without the means to wash properly, I would be dirty.

Imagine my delight and surprise, then, when I went downstairs to discover mum watching TV! The good news was that there was power - power to be cleansed! When I had thought I would be dirty all day, the good news was that there was a way to be cleaned - all down to the power available.

It made me consider it as a sort of gospel overview. We are helpless in our sins, dirty, and without any way of changing it. but the good news of the gospel is that there is power to be saved and changed and washed and restored - but it doesn't lie in a power shower or the electricity being turned on. No, the power to be washed lies only in the precious blood of Jesus Christ, shed for us on the cross. The old gospel hymn sums up what I'm saying:

Would you be free from the burden of sin?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood;
Would you o’er evil a victory win?
There’s wonderful power in the blood.

There is power, power, wonder working power
In the blood of the Lamb;
There is power, power, wonder working power
In the precious blood of the Lamb.

Would you be free from your passion and pride?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood;
Come for a cleansing to Calvary’s tide;
There’s wonderful power in the blood.

There is power, power, wonder working power
In the blood of the Lamb;
There is power, power, wonder working power
In the precious blood of the Lamb.

Would you be whiter, much whiter than snow?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood;
Sin stains are lost in its life giving flow.
There’s wonderful power in the blood.

There is power, power, wonder working power
In the blood of the Lamb;
There is power, power, wonder working power
In the precious blood of the Lamb.

Would you do service for Jesus your King?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood;
Would you live daily His praises to sing?
There’s wonderful power in the blood.

There is power, power, wonder working power
In the blood of the Lamb;
There is power, power, wonder working power
In the precious blood of the Lamb.

[And the blood will never lose its power,
No never, no, never,
Jesus' blood avails for me forever,
And will never lose its power.]